Saturday, August 30, 2008

Seven Times is not a Charm

I have been to the Comune di Maniace seven times in order to receive Italian residency.

The first time I visited the comune, the person behind the desk could not help because in three days a festival was going to take place in the town.

The second time I visited, I was basically refused service. The person who handles residency requests could not begin the process because he "did not know my history."

Research had to be done in order to understand who I am and what took place before, he said. I told him that the comune has all the necessary documents. In fact, it was them and the Comune di Tortoricci, my fathers birthplace, that confirmed my Italian citizenship.

Several years ago the Italian Consulate of Detroit sent all the necessary documents to both communes in order to verify my genealogy and issue me a passport. At that time, my sister personally visited the comune to investigate why it took them over two years to respond to the consulate.

The third and fourth time I visited was due to them arguing about how to register me in the system. Since I was, or probably still am, written as an Italian citizen through the Comune di Tortoricci, because I claimed citizenship through my father, the Comune di Maniace insisted that I go there in order to claim residency in the town of Maniace.

"Why would I go to Tortoricci to claim residency in Maniace," I asked.

No one had any answers. Instead, both times, they sent me off telling me to return in two days while they would speak to the Comune di Tortoricci.

A detailed discussion about how to process my papers took place the fifth time I visited the comune. In the end they assured me that they figured it out.

"Can I still get domicile in Firenze," I asked.

"Natalie don't confuse things. Don't ask any questions. Tutto a posto," said my friend Pippo, who works in the office, and thankfully took it upon himself to smooth things along even though it was not his responsibility.

"Tutto a posto? You are sure, because if I have to come here one more time . . ."

He responded to me with "tutto a posto." That phrase means that everything is in its place or taken care of.

Several days later my aunt told me that she ran into Pippo and he said I had to claim my Italian residency through the embassy in Rome.

My response to her and them when I went to the comune for the sixth time was, "that does not make sense. Italy does not have an embassy in their own country. And the United States Embassy has nothing to do with my citizenship here in Italy."

Another long argument ensued. First they told me to claim residency in Tortoricci and then transfer it to them. Then they told me that on my way back to Florence, to stop off in Rome and visit the American Embassy. As if I have all the time and money in the world to just change my train ticket, get a hotel and spend a couple of days in Rome.

I told them that this could all be resolved in five mintues. If they would make one phone call to the American Embassy they would discover that the United States has nothing to do with my residency in Italy.

A half an hour later, I made the phone call. In one minute the kind woman on the other end of the line assured me that my American residency is seperate from Italy and they do not have the authority to grant me residency in Italy.

That is when my friend said he would personally visit Tortoricci the next day to see how to grant residency to an Italian who was formerly living abroad. It was obvious that they created non-existent problems because they did not know the procudure to change a person's status from an Italian living abroad — specifically outside of Europe — to an Italian living in Italy. I think the most confusing concept for them was how to transfer the city of my citizenship from Tortoricci to Maniace. Confused yet???

The last time I went to the Comune di Maniace Pippo told me everything was taken care of and I would recieve my residency certificate in a couple of days. It could not be printed at that moment due to the computer sytem being down. Translation: they do not know how to register me in the system and so I will need to visit the comune when I return to Sicily in December.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Run Away Love

When I arrived in Sicily, my cousin Francesca filled me in on chi si ni fuiru, who has ran off together.

“Giampiero ran off. His wife is cute, she is 16. And so did Antonia, she is four months pregnant,” she quickly explained the details of the latest fuitina while she down shifted gears as the car climbed the steep and winding hills that lead home.

In my head I counted, Antonia was born the year that I was . . . and she ran off with a 23-year-old guy in November . . . so that makes her about . . . 15!

I could not believe it. When I first came to Maniace I was 7 and that time I had met girls who were 13 or 14 years old, “married” and pregnant. I could not believe that in the 21st century this was still going on, couples running off together in secret to a different town or a relative’s home and when they returned to Maniace they were considered husband and wife.

That cultural phenomenon seems contrary to the dominating Catholic culture in a town draped in religious mementos. Every bar (café), pub or club displays an honorable photo of the revered saint, Padre Pio; there is a festival that commemorate a saint about every other week and crosses or crucifixes are hung above at least one doorway in each home.

At a family dinner months before, my cousin Pina, herself a fuitina, said that way back when, a man would kidnap a woman and force intimacy or bring her to a house and when she exited the other men, upon seeing her, knew that she was “deflowered”.

“The other men would not want her if they knew she was no longer a virgin. But they do not kidnap women anymore,” she said.

Considering those and the drama that ensued when I went out with x., I could not believe that families passively accept a false marriage created under the premise that since the couple has had sex they are now physically, mentally and spiritually tied to one another.

In the States, a person 18 or older having relations with a 14 or 15-year-old is considered borderline pedophilia and a crime I told Francesca.

“It is the same here, but if the mother and father accept it . . . eh,” she said turning her palms up as if to ask me “what do you want.”

Well there must be someone who can explain why this practice still takes place today. That is when I sought the only priest in Maniace — the man who married my mother and father and looks unbelievably younger than them both — Father Nunzio Galati Giordano.

I interviewed Father Galati twice and each time there was someone calling him away or some ceremony he had to perform. Understandable since he heads the parish. Those interruptions prevented the interview to flow into a deep conversation. Nonetheless, I did get his perspective on how the church deals with la fuitina and why his town is one of the few that practices it.

From his clear and calm demeanor I could tell that Father Galati was a well educated and compassionate person. He emigrated from Tortorici to Maniace, like most of the inhabitants, with his parents and grandparents in 1967. It was then that he discovered this situation— half of the town was married in the church and the other half were fuitina.

He compared the relationship to convivenza, a couple living together without a church or public act formalizing the relationship, which is quite common in Italy. Today, the convivenza is made in accordance with the family. In 1967 however, families often interfered with their children’s relationships, and restricted their child from dating if they disliked their choice for fidanzato/a.

At that time that was one of the two main reasons why a couple ran off together. The other was financial. Sicilian families are expected to have elaborate and large weddings, but many families could not afford a proper ceremony and reception, so couples avoided marrying in the church.

While that may still may be the case today, he said most young couples make the decision to run off because it has become a custom or because the “wife” is pregnant. In the old days, that situation was unlikely due to the shame attached to premarital sex.

“Today there is more liberation. People have sexual experiences before marriage. Before, if the other men knew a woman had rapport with another man, the other men would not want her for a wife and usually the first time la fuitina had sex was when they ran off,” he said.

He noted that society is experiencing a scristianizzazione, becoming less Christian. The sacraments are no longer considered sacred. Back then, the Christian culture was instilled by the family — mother, father, grandparents and relatives — would continuously pressure the couple to recognize their commitment to each other in the church. Couples would visit him and he would perform a private ceremony normally days or weeks after they “eloped.”

There is not so much less respect for God, but an indifference towards the religious observances of the Catholic Church. The family no longer encourages the couple to marry. The couple may wait, one, two, three years before they stand on the altar and sometimes they never make it to the church.

He does not entirely dismiss la fuitina from the Church, but will only baptize the couple’s first child and does not accept confetti from them nor will he perform any blessings for the family. When he addresses the town at public gatherings he reminds the residents of the church’s disapproval of the act.

With breakups and divorces increasing in Italy, one may question the importance of two people being joined by holy union.

“God helps a couple stay together. This is the doctrine of marriage. A wife and husband cannot stay together with love only, because love is limited,” he said.

He explained that love is natural, but love is also weak. With the grace of God two people in love can overcome their weaknesses and troubles that life brings. With God’s help, the relationship evolves into more than a physical emotion, but one that has the potential to rise above human inadequacies.

“There are so many divorces because not everyone understands that marriage is more than love. There are 50 percent more divorces among couples who get married in the commune compared to those who marry in the church,” he said.

He recognized that the institution of marriage is in crisis, that the family has changed values.

"They do not speak the same language as they did a time ago. For example, here in Maniace more women ask for a divorce, then men. The economic situation has allowed them a voice and in some cases the man is the victim of infidelity or abuse," he said.

Father Galati recognized that many men in the town go out at night without their wives.

“This is not right, marriage does not mean you are only together when you are alone in the home,” he said. “If a man is married, why does he find the need to go to the festival or piazza alone?”

Friday, August 22, 2008

My Sicilian Crush

Granita is one of the reasons why I look forward to summer in Sicily. When the night train touched the city of Messina, the conversation amongst the others in the compartment turned to their want of the flavored crushed ice. Eaten for breakfast, it usually served in a tall glass with a sweet brioche on the side. Some people like to put cream in between and on top. It is a cool way to begin a dry sun drenched day on the island.

I wanted to see how granita was made. I asked Nunziatina Galati if I could see how they made theirs. She, her husband and family own and operate Bar Destro, located in Maniace’s main piazza. Their granita is the best in town and one of the best I have ever eaten.

It took a couple of weeks and conversations between her and, my aunt and my cousin until I finally got a sneak peak of the bar’s kitchen. It seems that some bakers in Italy may be protective of their recipes for competitive reasons. I did not get that feeling from Galati. I think she had never come across such a request, especially from an outsider.

I arrived on time at 10 a.m. even though I had returned home from an all night festival at 6 a.m. I do not know how I did it. Sometimes the town of Maniace pulls me back to the person I would like to leave behind.

Before the interview began she offered me granita. I chose my favorite, limone, which unfortunately was not being prepared at the moment. In the kitchen Nino Russo, the pasticcerre (pastry chef), was hand rolling freshly made pasta for the brioche while Galati prepared batches of almond, strawberry and peach for the next day’s sale.

Patting down the dough.

Rolling the top.

Cutting the dough into a circle.

Little tops perfectly placed.

It seemed easy. She scooped out almond paste from a container and hand mixed with water in a basket until the paste completely melted. She tasted the mixture for sweetness and then added the right amount of sugar. “The right amount of sugar,” she learned from Russo. He had been making pastries for thirty years, since he was 15-years-old.

Almond paste made from whole almonds at Bar Destro.

After the sugar was hand mixed and melted in, she poured the liquid into a sieve to capture any remnants of almond skin. The mixture was placed in a steel basket and refrigerated overnight before pouring into the machine that turns the liquid into slush.

Sifting out the almond particles.

Next she prepared fragola. Made using fragoline from the town of Maletto, known for their strawberries, the mini berries are a sweeter and juicier than a strawberry. The mixture was made in the same manner as the almond flavor; however she added a pour of aroma di fragola, strawberry flavoring, before mixing in the berries with water. This is when I discovered the secret.

Fragoline added to water flavored with arome di fragole.

The berry mix.

“We make the almond and strawberry pastes ourselves. We have a machine downstairs which cleans and crushes the almonds. We only add sugar as a natural preservative,” she said.

Whole almonds used to make the paste.

After she finished making their two most popular flavors, she grabbed several peaches. She cleaned, skinned and cut the fruit, grown in Maniace, for the pesca flavor. Sugar was added before she hand crushed the peaches and added water. Does it get any fresher than this?

Just picked peaches.

Stirring the peach mix, making sure the sugar dissolves.

After the mixes were made she recounted stories of her and my mother when they were children. When she and my mother were little the people of the town were closer. Everyone would get together to eat and dance. Also the owner of the restaurant Il Casolare delle Balze, she spoke of how restaurants operated when she was younger.

“Everything was fresh. The restaurants would kill and clean the chickens right before serving, because there was no refrigeration. They would place bottles of soda and drinks in the river to keep cool,” she said.

Judging from my mother’s age, this had to be around the late 1950’s and 1960’s. It is hard to believe that when America was experiencing an economic boom, areas of Sicily did not even have common amenities like electricity and refrigeration.

Friday, August 15, 2008


Today is the Ferragosto. This Catholic holiday celebrates the Virgin Mary’s assumption into heaven. This is one of the most popular holidays in Italy. The whole country has the day off. Most Italians head to the beach on this day. Last year at this time, I was also in Sicily. Sick with the stomach flu, I stayed in bed while my family spent the day eating and playing bocce ball at a relative’s house.

Today started out low key.
My family held a dinner that only my three first cousins and their family attended. It was the usual routine; we ate and then slept for hours.

Later in the evening one of my distant cousins invited me to go to the festival in a town nearby, Randazzo.
We took the old city streets to enter the heart of town. I never thought I was claustrophobic until the car passed through a strict stone street edged out by the townhouses lined up on each side. I held my breath as the car slid through a road so tight that at one point we had to pull the mirrors in to avoid scrapping the side of a wall.

The town was filled with stands selling sausage, nuts and children’s toys and balloons.
There were carnival rides spread throughout the streets. My favorite was a rainbow lighted Ferris wheel that blasted rock music as it spun faster and faster.

Spinning Wheel.

Later we sat on one of the many church steps eating pistacchi. This is when we ran into a friend who was also a local. When she found out I was American she took it upon herself to show me around her city. I managed to take some photos of the narrow city streets and the monument the city constructs in memory of the Virgin Mary. She told me that during the day children are placed in the tall structure for the ceremony which most of the town attends. This day made up for the time I missed out on last year.

Tribute to Mary.

Lead photo: Via Degli Archi (Street of Arches).