Friday, December 28, 2012

Cicero in Sicily

Anybody who thinks that Sicilian government is corrupt today should have seen it in the days of Cicero. Appointed to an administrative post in western Sicily, the jurist made his name as Rome's greatest orator during his prosecution of the corrupt Verres, an incredibly greedy governor of the Roman province of Sicily.

In the process, he all but destroyed the career of Verres' mediocre lawyer - until then considered Rome's best.

It so happens that Cicero's distinctive surname was based on his wealthy family's cultivation of the ceci, or chickpea. That's the focus of our chickpea article.

Read about both in the January issue of our Sicily magazine.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Buon Natale!

It's just cool enough to feel like Christmas in Sicily, where the holiday season runs into January - though this time the Epiphany is on a Sunday so it won't feel like a separate holiday.

The Christmas trees and Nativity scenes are the same as always - well, almost. This year, the city of Palermo spent more than usual on a tree half the size of last year's (shown).

And in a sign of the times - colored by the economic recession - merchants want to begin their sales as early as possible, with a few even before Christmas.

The government is also offering a "Christmas present" to the public. At the end of the month Italians will have new "wealth taxes" to pay, including an annual deduction of 34 euros from each current (checking) account and over a euro for each thousand deposited in savings or investment accounts. Italy's bank fees were already the highest in western Europe.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Control of Sicily's Historic Sites

The Sicilian regional government has now taken back control of the historical and archaeological sites in its jurisdiction following a decade of incompetent administration by outsourced firms founded by the friends of politicians - several of whom are under criminal investigation - who misappropriated some 51 million euros.

Novamusa cannot account for 41 million euros it collected, while the Fondazione Federico II owes nearly 2 million euros to the city of Monreale from entry fees collected in the abbey's cloister. The kingpins running these firms have been arrested and charged, while the employees are gradually being replaced.

What this new accountability means to you is that various sites, such as Segesta (its temple is shown here), will be better managed in the future and it will be easier to address problems that arise.

Best of Sicily applauds the efforts of Sicily's new governor, Rosario Crocetta, in confronting this situation and others.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sicily Tours 2013

The main "gateway" page describing our co-branded tours of Sicily has been updated to include the principal Sicily tours for 2013. The Sicily Concierge service, offering personalized travel in Sicily, has also been updated.

In connection with this, a discount on the price of the popular 8-night Red Tour is available through American Express Selects at Sicily Concierge. This applies to early reservations. In an effort to stay a step ahead of the competition by including details - places and sights - that the tour planners at other travel firms don't know about, the Red Tour for 2013 features a visit to a "secret" medieval water mill that still functions after a thousand years.

Siracusa (its cathedral is shown here) is included in all of the one-week tours.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Two Shipwrecks

There were two near-shipwrecks yesterday.

First, during a storm that left Enna, Cammarata and other mountainous areas blanketed with snow, a ferry was nearly capsized by a huge wave as it neared the Port of Palermo, spilling several trucks and shipping containers into the sea. Fortunately, nobody was hurt.

The second event, whose long-term consequences will be more painful, was the resignation of Italian prime minister Mario Monti, the banker who led the country away from the brink of financial disaster and possible default. If the United States is facing a "fiscal cliff," you can imagine Italy's situation!

Clearly, the financial threat to Italy's stability is not over, as demonstrated by reactions across Europe. An economist and professor, Monti was not appointed politically (by parliament), and whatever "negatives" are attached to his brief term during a single year (particularly tax increases), nobody elected in 2013 will be better than he was. That's a prediction you can bank on.

More immediately, inflation and unemployment are threatening to make this the most frugal Christmas season Italians have seen in decades

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sicily Facts

Our site is full of facts, but in response to requests for a relatively brief page listing some essential information we've published a Sicily facts page. Truth be told, these facts are available elsewhere on the site, but putting them on one page seemed reasonable.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Expats in Sicily Etc.

We recently updated our Sicily expatriate page and also another introducing Sicily from the point of view of its multicultural history. The former is quite current, the latter reflects the 16th century as its most recent event. Both are reasonably informative.

People choose to live in Sicily for all kinds of reasons. In our "introduction" for expats we make the point that - economically speaking - it's usually easier if your income derives from sources outside Italy.

It seems that many expats from English-speaking countries end up in small towns and rural areas. The majority coming from Asia and Africa live in the cities.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Christmas in Sicily 2012

The Christmas season is upon us and there's even a light dusting of snow on the Madonie and Nebrodi Mountains - and of course on Mount Etna. The Christmas Holidays are a great time to visit Sicily. The temperatures are quite comfortable and because it's "low season" for tourism there are hardly any lines at the more interesting historical and archeological sites and museums.

That's just one article in our online magazine about Sicily for December.

Another looks at the subject of Sicily's status as a semi-independent political region of Italy.

As regards public administration, a recent development relevant to visitors was the announcement yesterday by the Sicilian Region's new President that historical and archaeological sites will now be managed directly by the government. For a decade, most have been administered by "outsourced" companies set up by the friends of politicians. Several "managers" of these firms are under investigation or on trial for embezzlement or misappropriation of funds - in one case almost 20 million euros are missing. President Crocetta hopes to bring greater accountability to the public sector and perhaps hire a few thousand unemployed Sicilians to operate the various sites and museums.

Best of Sicily has advocated this for many years and we applaud Mr Crocetta's initiative.