Friday, May 18, 2012

What's a tour operator?

Lately we've received a number of queries asking us to define terms like tour operator, travel consultant, travel planner and even "cultural association" as these refer to tours in Sicily. For the most part, these questions arrive from those planning tours for fairly large groups - let's say more than ten travellers. To some degree, they reflect concerns spawned by recent changes in legislation in Italy's travel industry. As part of our series on topics for travel agents (and for anybody planning such a visit) we've finally published a Sicily tour operator article.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Open-Air Theatre at Tindari

This year you can see Plautus' Miles Gloriosus and Jean Racine's Andromaca through 10 June at Tindari's ancient hilltop amphitheatre. Visit their site for more info. Tickets are available under Biglietti.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Elections: Bread and Circuses

The election results are in, and among Sicily's major races the most interesting was in Palerrmo (Catania had no mayoral election this year), where Leoluca Orlando made an astounding comeback against a field of, well (let's just say), less-qualified candidates. Endorsed only by the Communists, Greens and his own Italia dei Valori, Orlando clearly owes nothing to any of the major parties.

As he didn't get the 50% plus 1 vote required for election - he received 49% with the closest contender (also on the Centre-Left) getting 17% - there'll be a two-way run-off ballot next week.

Most people didn't vote based on philosophy, politics or even special interests so much as pragmatism. They simply want cleaner streets and better public services (like public transport).

Monday, May 7, 2012

If Greece goes under...

Among other news the past weekend - like France narrowly kicking Sarko out of office, Putin winning in Russia and many Sicilian cities electing new mayors - a pivotal story involves our neighbor Greece, where it appears that another government is about to be dumped. Some Greeks want to abandon the euro and perhaps default on the bailout loans they are receiving from the EU through the ECB. Germany and France are shouldering most of these loans but Italy and other countries are helping out too.

The Greek economy is a lot like Sicily's, except with twice the population and without the organized crime. Like Italy, Greece is plagued by public-sector corruption, high taxes and what might be described as "welfare state" policies. Not a pretty picture. But abandoning the euro might throw its fragile economy into free fall down a black hole, in the process debasing the value of goods and services for years to come. It wouldn't help the Euro Zone generally.

How does this involve Sicily? In many ways, Greece's problems are quite similar to Italy's. In both nations the roots of the economic woes transcend (and pre-date) the current crisis which began in 2008. The difference, of course, is that Italy is slowly getting her house in order and had a much larger economy to use as a shield. We wish the Greeks well.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Sicily Joins Europe!

This happened in the 1060s with the Norman Conquest led by Robert Hauteville and several of his brothers, including Roger. Known to history as Roger I, he was never king but he did sire Sicily's first king, Roger II. From the fall of the Western Roman Empire until the second half of the eleventh century, Sicily was ruled from Constantinople and then from North Africa and was not always regarded as "Western European." The Normans brought it into the Western orbit.

The copper tarì shown here dates from Roger's 30-year reign as Great Count of Sicily and - to the island's Arabs - Emir of Emirs. Originally an Arab coin, the tarì was minted, in one form or another, until 1860. It's just one of many pieces of Sicilian culture that disappeared when the island was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

Read about Roger I of Sicily in this month's magazine.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Venus in Sicily

This goddess goes by different names. To the Romans she was Venus. The Greeks called her Aphrodite, while to the Phoenicians she was Astarte. And to complicate matters further, these are actually the English versions of these names derived from the original languages. All three peoples left their mark in ancient Sicily.

The goddess was venerated by a cult of love (or ritual prostitution) at EriceRead about her in the May magazine.