Mazel Tov! The Sicilian Housewife goes to Israel!

Not really.

I went to a “meeting” in the local council building to “discuss” the “promotion” of “tourism” in our town last night. All these “”””””” “”” ” ” “””  have a purpose and I promise to explain.

Being an astute housewife, I realised very quickly that I had been lured there under false pretences purely to get bums on seats. (Or should I say tuches on seats?)

The “meeting” turned out to be a presentation pitched at promoting tourism to Israel. The people from the local council who hosted this, the ones who should be trying to get tourists HERE, are tragically bewildered about how towns make tourists come to them.

Do Sicilians know how to promote tourism?

For most of my life, I had thought Israel would be a very interesting place to visit, packed with history and emotive landscapes. Last night changed all that.

The “discussion” was a 90-minute slide show – by a Sicilian – of beaches lined with huge, ugly, modern hotels. I saw more photos of people enjoying discos than I care to recall. By the time I was seeing the fiftieth shopping street selling schlocky souvenirs, I was losing the will to live.

I know some people like this kind of thing…. honestly, it beats me

 

My one consolation was that this all took place in Palazzo Butera, the Baroque town council building. The room was lined from floor to ceiling with frescoes of chubby flying cherubs, heroes slaying dragons, Hercules swatting away low-flying cherubs while chopping off a couple of the Hydra’s snaky heads, snowy trompe l’oeil landscapes on the walls, and more naked little cherubs fluttering in and out among them all.

There were actually more bums on the ceiling than there were on the seats. I passed the time trying to count them.

A Baroque kind of meeting: Bums on ceilings

 

Could I have done better myself? 

I’ve never been to Israel, but I grew up close to Gants Hill in London, which I was told had one of the biggest Jewish communities in the world outside Israel. I know about Jewish stuff.

Sicilians should do, too. The Jews were the scribes and the polyglot interpreters in multicultural Sicily for centuries. They carried out many charitable works that kept the poorer classes alive. The Jews played a major role in shaping present-day Sicilian culture.

Lately, a lot of Sicilians are tracing their ancestry and finding out out it is partly Jewish. When the Spanish brought the Inquisition to Sicily many Sicilian Jews could not bear to leave and instead converted to Catholicism.

Why would Sicilians love Israel?

1. Food

Food is not just nourishment to Jews and Sicilians, it is love. Having tucked into many a delicious plateful of kosher nosh, I can tell you Jewish Mommas give the Sicilians a serious run for their money.

“Better than a Jewish lunchbox” was an expression of high praise, used in my school to describe food that could be classified not just as cuisine, but as a banquet.

2. Mothers

Jewish Momma.

Sicilian Mamma.

Spot the difference!

3. The bible

Come on, the bible actually happened in Israel. I defy any Sicilian not to get excited about that.

So anyway, did I manage to discuss promoting tourism here in Bagheria?

I tried. I accosted the mayor and the councillor for tourism and economic development. They talked about hiring out one of the villas as a wedding venue.

I tried to help them understand this will not bring a steady stream of tourism income to the town. This is the home town of Renato Guttuso and Cinema Paradiso. It has a gallery dedicated to them. Promoting tourism here would be a piece of cake.

“To promote tourism, you contact tour operators, foreign journalists, people who write tour guides, and all the tourist information offices,” I told them. “You make a city website that explains what’s on offer. You remember to OPEN your town’s art gallery each and every day!” Actually opening the galley is a problematic stumbling block round here.

Oy vey! If you want to know how well they seemed to understand what I was explaining to them, go and teach a gerbil how to solve Rubik’s cube.

Well that’s enough tourism talk from me. What shall I prepare for lunch? Gefilte fish, anyone? No, I’m afraid in this situation, only chicken soup will do.

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24 thoughts on “Mazel Tov! The Sicilian Housewife goes to Israel!

  1. Another excellent piece. I can SO sympathise – the apathy and total lack of understanding seems to run throughout much of southern Italy. I can certainly vouch for a similar attitude in Puglia. Loved the reference to more bums on the ceiling than on the seats.

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    1. If only they realised the economic potential they are neglecting! I suppose their imaginations are limited as so many Sicilians (and maybe southern Italians) only ever go abroad on their honeymoon…. and spend most of the time thinking it’s a scary place.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If you ever need help on this journey of yours, help from the outside, from someone who IS a tour operator and DOES bring people to see things in their town, I would be happy to write a letter attesting to the truth in what you say, the frustrations of a shuttered window and a vacant post. In the meantime, keep at it. You are, of course, right.

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  3. Sounds like you’re fighting a losing battle 😉 The gallery sounds like a museum I visited in Latvia – it was open at least but I was the only visitor that day so they had to keep running ahead of me and switching on the lights – then switching them off again as I left each room 😉

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  4. Gants Hill, my teenage stamping ground, which is now the Indian culinary capital of the world! So sad they screwed up Israel, which is truly a wonderful place to visit although not to live. Well, you know your vocation. You should be running the Department of Tourism in Sicily. No question. Go for it!

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    1. I didn’t know you were an Essex boy!!! I wonder if we ever crossed paths while I was out in my white stilettoes?
      Ilford is mainly Bangladeshis these days and I think the Jewish community has shrunk drastically since we were kids.
      I do still want to visit Israel really. The brother of one of my best friends (also from Gants Hill) lives in Tel Aviv now and she says it’s actually a pretty good place to live. He finds the schools better than English ones these days. 😦

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  5. Mrs S, dreams of visiting Israel. We have just found out that Squeezy Jet have some super deals on flights from Milan to Israel so I might organise a flight for her. ….. Party time

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    1. Oh, go for it!
      There are also direct flights from Palermo to Israel so I am still tempted. I am seeing more and more Israelis on holiday here in Sicily. Their tour guides are hilarious – they go round with microphones and amplifiers and broadcast Hebrew history lessons to the town as they walk about!!!!
      I suppose they can’t compete with the Sicilian shouting so they need their Israeli high tech instead!

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  6. Maybe they are not so dumb, yet have real reasons to avoid tourists in the town? Reasons, which are a dark secret? Maybe this would be a good advertisment for a town: Come to Bagheria and play Dan Brown for some days: Find out why the mayor does not want tourist pour into his town! Find the dark secret of the mayor! If this has success the mayor will be an attraction himself!

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    1. I would normally think exactly this way too! Our minds work alike!
      But I think in this case it is basically that he has so many different problems to tackle he does not know where to start. The council is bankrupt, the refuse collection company is bankrupt and the water company is bankrupt. He needs to find millions of euros to pay off the debts and I clearly see tourism as the source of money, but I think he is too deep in it to see the wood from the trees.
      What he needs to do is step back from fighting one fire after another and form an integrated strategy for the whole problem. But he is very hands on and doesn’t have this “director” type approach – maybe because he lacks a reliable team of staff, or maybe because he is very young and doesn’t have managerial experience.
      To me he comes across as an extremely competent middle manager who needs a director to give him an integrated overall plan.

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  7. I wonder about you partnering with someone like your commenter, Karen LaRosa, to co-host some of the events you referenced here. Use your connections to promote and fly under the “official radar” so to speak. You create a coincidental momentum that then becomes difficult to ignore. Of course the degree of success will be measured by how much the officials then take credit. I’ve learned when it comes to making change, and innovating, never ever to waste precious energy on convincing naysayers. Go with the “early adapters” – those who champion and do. I bet you have a readership here ready to accept your invitation! Brava, bella! Avanti!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I could do all the publicity myself and make tourists come here, but there are some things I cannot control and need the council to fix first, such as ensuring the art gallery actually does open and maintain regular hours. The same goes for all the spectacular baroque churches, which are often locked and open at random times. The town also needs signs helping people find their way through the maze of twisting streets from the station to the main villas, and so on.
      These are all terribly obvious and easy to sort out but it takes the authority of the council to lay out the groundwork before I can start making tourists actually come.
      And here’s where the council gets itself so hopelessly confused. They think they need to rebuild the entire slip road off the motorway for all the tourist coaches that might encounter a traffic jam BEFORE they can do any tourist advertising.
      This is the most frustrating thing about so many Sicilians – they cannot figure out how to do things in steps, progressively, they can only see how to go from A to Z in one mightly leap, or else not do anything at all and stay blocked at “Go.”

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  8. Well I certainly think the rest of the world has NO idea about Sicily. I had 18 days there last April. I can’t wait to go back. I have lived in Rome, but I think the food in Sicily is far superior. It is an easy place to visit. The baroque architecture is mind blowing. I first saw it on background of Montalbano but I had no idea the EXTENT of it.

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