My husband was nearly shot by the Mafia

This event happened when he was six years old, and he lived to tell the tale, obviously. The story startled me, though, as he was so blasé about the whole thing that he only got around to telling me about it last month, after eight years of marriage. He had been hanging about by the…

The Celebrity Chefs of Palermo – They’re Offal!

Do you eat offal? is it forbidden by your religion? Or do you just think it tastes like poop? In Palermo, fast food sold in the streets is almost all made of offal. One of the absolute classic dishes of Palermo is U pani ca meusa, which means, “bread with spleen”. I ususally give this…

About Jews, Greek Philosophers and Offal sandwiches

Q. What do Socrates and a spleen sandwich have in common? A. Read on to find out! There was already a significant Jewish population here in Sicily by the 5th century BC. They came with the Greeks from Athens, which also had a large Jewish community. Since the Jews influenced Greek culture a great deal…

A Lateen, or Latin Sail boat

A friend of mine took these photos while we were with his wife, having coffee, ice-cream and shameful amounts of chocolate biscuits on his gorgeous terrace overlooking the sea. The sail is triangular, and its front side is lashed to the mast from top to bottom. This Vela Latina or Lateen was the sail used all…

A bird’s eye view of Piazza San Domenico, Palermo

I took this photo from the rooftop café of La Rinascente, a swanky department store in central Palermo. This is PIAZZA SAN DOMENICO. On top of the giant column stands the virgin Mary. The piazza takes its name from the Chiesa San Domenico, which is out of frame to the left. The street with red…

The ‘Cult of the Beheaded People’ in Palermo

There’s a small road in Palermo called “Via dei Decollati,” which means “Street of the Beheaded People.” In medieval times, this area was just outside the city and criminals were beheaded here. Unfortunately the Sicilian government was corrupt in those days – not any more, of course! – and many innocent people were beaheaded, too….

What have the Africans done for Sicily?

Africans are so often portrayed as the underdogs, nowadays, that we sometimes forget they conquered southern Europe twice and ruled it for centuries. The Sicilians don’t forget, though, for the Africans invented pasta as we know it, shaped their language and gave them the word Mafia, and brought them their citrus fruit trees, taught them…

Urgent! I need some Ancient Romans to build me an Aqueduct

We have no running water to our house any more. The reason is that some of the other people in our street haven’t paid their water bills for over eight years. So the water board cut off the water to the whole street. One thing I’d first like to say is, thank the Lord this…

The Black Madonna of Tindari

Yesterday we went to Tindari in Eastern Sicily, famous for its statue of a black Madonna with a black baby Jesus. Like most of the “black Madonna” statues from places where the majority of the population is white, she is carved out of wood, and so was originally light-skinned. Wood darkens over time so, eventually,…

Is this Racist?

I discovered recently that Dolce & Gabbana have created their Summer 2013 women’s fashion collection with an exuberantly Sicilian theme. It has also come to my attention that American and English journalists are calling it “racist”. Is it racist? Let’s have a look at it first, so we know what we’re talking about. Here’s a dress: The…

The Arabic Cathedral of Monreale

Just outside Palermo, in the charming little town of Monreale, lies possibly the most beautiful – and certainly the most exotic – cathedral in Europe. Monreale Cathedral was built by King William II of Sicily in 1174. The architecture is Moorish Arabic, the interior is late Byzantine, and the layout is a fusion of Catholic…

The Villa of the Monsters in Bagheria

We have a very bizarre tourist attraction in our town. Villa Palagonia has been nicknamed the Villa of the Monsters locally for centuries. It is absolutely crammed with caricature stone sculptures of bizarre creatures, deformed little men, goblins, and ugly hybrid “manimals”. It was visited in the 18th century by multi-talented German writer, politician, lawyer and…

Manna from Heaven? Or from Sicily?

This summer we went for a day trip to a town called Castelbuono. If you speak Italian you’ll know that this means “good castle”. The place is well named because there is a castle there, and it is pretty good actually. It’s medieval, huge, has a scary portcullis and a massive dungeon, a secret undergroud…