Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Here in Italy the Christmas season lasts through the Epiphany, a national holiday observed on January 6th. In Sicily this December has been cool enough, with a touch of rain, to feel like late autumn - that is, "autumn" in the central Mediterranean. (Our last post mentioned Sicily's first snow of 2011).

As one of our editors, who spent many years in London and New York, put it, winter in Sicily is like autumn in certain parts of the United States or Britain but without an overcoat. That seems like a good description of the weather, if not the atmosphere.

The picture shows the portico of Palermo's imposing, neoclassical Teatro Massimo, Sicily's largest opera house, decorated for this year's Christmas holiday. Fans of the gangster genre of films may recognise it as the setting of one of the final (violent) scenes of The Godfather Part 3.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the staff of Best of Sicily!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

First Snow of 2011

Okay, so Sicily's first snow of 2011 was on Mount Etna and then in the Nebrodi Mountains a week or two ago, but our annual "measure" is based on visible snow on the mountains around Palermo - which aren't nearly as high as the higher peaks of the Madonie or Nebrodi, not to mention Etna.

Yes, a few of Sicily's higher towns may actually have a white Christmas this year.

The arrival of the first snow heralds the true Sicilian winter, such as it is, with a touch of cooler temperatures and rain. For many of you reading this, that's comparable to autumn.

Here in Sicily it's a welcome event.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

St Lucy's Day

Happy Saint Lucy's Day. In commemoration of prayers to Saint Lucy having been answered with the arrival of a shipload of grain during a 17th-century famine, only unmilled grain is served today. This is either arancini, or rice balls (shown here) or a wheat pudding known as cuccìa.

Patroness of Siracusa, Lucy (Lucia) was an early Christian martyr born in Sicily but widely venerated.

Today you won't find bakeries or pizzerias open, and few restaurants here in Sicily will even serve pasta. But there'll be lots of rice!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Magione

Located in the same part of Palermo as the medieval castles - or fortress-like palaces - of the Steri and Palazzo Abatellis, the Magione, constructed late in the 12th century, is one of the world's smallest basilicas. For centuries the monastic setting, with its splendid cloister, was a commandery of the Teutonic Order. These German knights arrived with the Hohenstaufen monarch Henry VI just a few years after the church was built for the Cistercians.

Overlooked by most "tourist itineraries," the Magione is open for most of the day, Monday through Saturday, with mass Sunday morning, and well worth a visit. Read about it in the current issue of our Sicily magazine.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Martorana Fruit and Sea Urchins

Bad as the Italian economy is, Italians can still allow themselves a few culinary pleasures - call them luxuries.

Pasta Reale or Martorana Fruit is a pastry made of almond marzipan shaped and decorated to resemble actual fruit. It's popular during the cooler months. Sooner or later, Winter arrives even here in Sicily. Read about Martorana Fruit in Roberta Gangi's article in the December magazine.

Another of her articles published this month is dedicated to sea urchins. Like Martorana Fruit, these are a Winter food in Sicily.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christmas Season in Sicily

The sluggish economy hasn't affected Sicily's Christmas season too much as far as we can see. It's true that a number of shops have closed, especially in Catania and Palermo (Sicily's largest cities), but the shopping season is upon us and people seem to be buying. Yet certain national trends can be discerned. Italian newspapers report that parents of young children are becoming more frugal than in the past in view of less money circulating. A series of budget cuts to be announced by the prime minister next week will certainly have an effect - with some taxes reduced while others are increased. Sales (value-added) tax was recently increased to 21% and in 2012 will probably be hiked up again, to 23%, placing it on a par with Denmark's.

It seems that somebody at the infamously mediocre University of Palermo, surely one of the worst institutions of higher learning in Europe, decided to give students an early Christmas "present" in the form of stolen exams, but not for free. Yesterday the Palermo edition of La Repubblica reported that around thirty professors and staff are under investigation for selling exams. Maybe they needed the extra money?