Saturday, August 27, 2011

Paradise on Earth

This sounds like an improbable possibility in a chaotic and modern city like Palermo (the 5th largest in Italy today), but there was a time in the past, during the reign of the Norman Kings of Sicily, when miles and miles of the area outside the medieval city walls carried this title in Arabic. I'm referring the the "Genoard" as the Normans called it giving its Arabic name "Gennat-al-ard" a French sound easier to pronounce in their native tongue.

Travellers during the twelfth century have left us descriptions of the palaces, pavillions (like the one shown here) and vast park. A visit to these places today really puts our imagination to the test, but you can still see the Zisa castle, the Cuba and more.

Read about all this in my new article in the September issue of Best of Sicily Magazine.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The War Next Door (Part 9)

Libya's rebels have taken most of Tripoli, the capital, and while their struggle is far from over it is clear that democracy - in some form - lies on the horizon.

Peace and a decent government will be greeted with relief by all in the region, including Italy. Democracy comes at a price, and Libya's path toward better government is just beginning.

The effects of the Libyan conflict in Sicily were minimal - a few planes launched from air bases and (more significantly) the arrival of thousands of refugees off Sicily's islands.

Parts of Libya are still controlled by the dictator's forces, and this morning a few tanks emerged from the (former) leader's fortified compound in a final military effort. It'll take weeks to defeat or assimilate all of the regime's remaining defenders. But the future looks good.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Beaches of August

No better time than August to discover the beaches of Sicily. The season reaches its peak mid-month, the week of Ferragosto, as the 15th of August (a Monday this year) is commonly known nowadays. To Catholics it's the Feast of the Assumption. Ferragosto as a beach holiday emerged with Italy's "beach culture" in the late 1950s.

Beach addicts from cooler climes will tell you that Sicily's waters are warm enough to swim in well into September, even early October. Check out our Sicily weather page for current conditions.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Italy's Economy and You

Is Italy broke? Bankrupt? Ready to default on its public debt? Yesterday the European Central Bank promised to purchase some of Italy's debt in the form of its government-issued bonds, and this helped trading on the national stock exchange (the Milan Bourse) today. A few days ago the prime minister announced that a series of not-too-drastic economic reforms slated for 2014 would be moved up to 2013. As many of us see it, undertaking these cuts in spending in 2012 would be better, but that may be too soon logistically. There's no avoiding reality: The situation is serious, and a slight increase in the national value-added (sales) tax may be the next step - probably from 20% to 21%.

Will any of this have any significant effect on you as a visitor to our sunny shores?

No. Italy has not (yet) reached the point of actual default as happened in Greece and our great attractions - from the Alps to Sicily - still await you.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Cuttlefish - Sicilian Seppia

The two happy creatures shown here are cuttlefish, which those of us here in Sicily call seppia. Though related to the squid, the cuttlefish only lives in warm waters and doesn't grow to the length of the rare giant squid. And despite its name it isn't actually a "fish."

The cuttlefish, which can change its color to evade predators or deceive its prey, produces an ink, nero di seppia, used in making black pasta sauce. Read about it in our online magazine.