Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Italy Redux: Provincia di Enna

When the average person thinks of Italy they often think of the Big Three:  Rome, Florence, and Venice.  Lots of art, architecture, and museums.  Very few people think of bucolic backwater villages and abandoned stone farm buildings.

Sicily is, on the whole, still very rural.  It takes resources to develop land, and when resources are scarce people tend to stick to the cities.  The whole thing has the effect of eliminating suburbs in Sicily.  Cities end, countryside begins.

This is, with the possible exception of its economic consequences, a good thing.  Suburbia (if case the gentle reader has never been to Schaumberg, IL or Simi Valley, CA) is a pretty ugly thing.

I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles.  This suburban area now describes the entire area that is southern California.  There are no downtowns.  There are no city centers.  Just miles of endless strip malls. I couldn't go downtown, there was no downtown.  Just a choice of two malls.

Suburbs (Latin for "under the city") are a function of wealth and ease of transportation.  It's not a uniquely American phenomenon: Rome has some pretty hideous, souless suburbs too, created more by the cost of living in Rome itself than any desire for a Starter Castle.

I love rural Italy. The people are friendly, easily engaged in conversation.  If you want to make a little old lady in Sicily laugh, speak Sicilian.  That's because white folks don't speak Sicilian, ever.

I was in Raddusa, lost because of backroads that were blocked by mudslides, so I pulled over to speak with two little old Sicilian ladies (black dresses, grey hair, small beards).  They were sweet, giving me contradictory directions.  "There might be roads closed that we don't even know about yet, son."  True enough.

They saw Ian (a tall redhead, fairly uncommon in Sicily) and asked me why we were in Raddusa.  I told them we were traveling the backroads of Sicily, but, I explained,  U Figghiu miu 'sta en catenu cortu - "I'm keeping my son on a short lead."  

The sound of Italian coming from my mouth surprised them, but the sound of Sicilian made these little old ladies laugh with wonderful, toothless laughs.  I'm not a Sicilian expert by any means, but it's fun to throw out the odd phrase to spice things up.  Cu mancia fa muddichi is one of my favorites, appropriate at the pizzaria:

   "If you eat, you make crumbs."

Respectfully submitted,


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