Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Thomas Becket and Sicily

Today the Roman Catholic Church commemorates Saint Thomas Becket, the 12th-century Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered by knights under King Henry II of England.

Very few people, including Sicilians, know about the connection between this famous archbishop and Sicily, but he was so important to the Normans of Sicily that after his death they had a Cathedral built in his honor in the Western Sicilian town of Marsala, and an effigy of him done in mosaic for Monreale Cathedral.

Thomas Becket was a friend and confidant of the Sicilian Queen Margaret of Navarre, with whom he kept up a long-standing correspondence.

When he was murdered on December 29th of the year 1170, the scandal within the Church was so great that the engagement between Henry II's daughter Joan of England, and the young Sicilian Norman King William II was called off for a few years.

Read more about him in our article.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Buon Natale!

This Christmas season has been bittersweet in Sicily. Lots of street protests here and throughout Italy over things like public spending cuts. And merchants are complaining that holiday shopping, which saw an increase in sales in the United States, was not very good here. That was something you could see.

One intangible gift was a recent law that will improve higher education in Italian un iversities, including the infamously mediocre University of Palermo. In the future, nepotism will be outlawed and students will be able to "review" teacher performance. Professors will be required to be present instead of skipping classes and "office hours."

Yes, it's bizarre that such corruption still exists here, but the government's effort to address it is a good sign.

And Christmas, of course, will be celebrated as it always has been...

Friday, December 17, 2010

First Snow

This morning parts of Sicily - mostly the higher regions - were blanketed with snow. Etna, the Nebrodi and Madonie mountains, but also some lower peaks around Palermo (shown), were white. Etna, of course, is snow-capped until March.

The first snowfall is much awaited, just like the first major rains after summer (usually during early September). In recent years it hasn't come until January, but this year a burst of cold air arrived from Russia, bringing the snow with it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Saint Lucy's Day

It's December 13th, Saint Lucy's Day! The feast of this saint, a native of Sicily, is celebrated in a special way in Siracusa - her birthplace - where she is the patron, and in Sweden, as well as other parts of Europe. In Sicily, where by tradition wheat products are not served on this day, arancine (rice balls) and cuccìa (wheat berry pudding) are popular.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Venus comes home!

Visitors at the Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles are saying their farewells to an ancient Sicilian woman whose beauty will never pass: she's the Venus of Morgantina.

In just a few weeks, she will be traveling back to Sicily where she was "kidnapped" by tomb raiders and then sold on the international black-market during the 1980's.

In 1988 the Venus of Morgantina was bought by the Paul Getty Museum during a London auction for a reported 12 million dollars. After years of investigations, an Italian court was able to determine that the statue's tufa stone comes from a quarry in central Sicily.

The Italian-Swiss art dealer, who sold the statue to the English company illegally, which later auctioned it off to the Californian museum, was sentenced to two years in prison and to a fine of about 20 million Euros to be paid to the Italian government.

The "Venus" of Morgantina actually portrays one of the most venerated female divinities of ancient Sicily, i.e. either the beautiful Persephone or her mother Demeter.

Soon she will be back home in the Sicilian museum of Aidone, near Morgantina, where she came from. In this same museum a set of silver and gold tableware, including plates, bowls and platters, is also displayed. This set was also stolen in Morgantina and it was just recently sent back to Sicily from the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Baby Bolsheviks!

Can young teenagers close down a public high school from late November until Christmas on the pretext that they want to ferment social change in "evil" Italy? Yes, if they're in Sicily. Read about this typically Italian phenomenon in my article on sit-ins.