Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sicilian Dynasty by Daniela Di Benedetto

Coming this Christmas, Sicilian novelist Daniela Di Benedetto's first book to be translated into English will be available from Amazon and (in the United States) from Barnes & Noble in both traditional (paper) and digital (ebook) formats.

Intriguing and passionate, the story of Eva and Antonio captures the essence of the experiences of real Sicilian families. First published in Italian as L'Erede (The Heir), Sicilian Dynasty is the story of a husband and wife in a changing Sicily during the last decades of the twentieth century:

Young Eva marries the much older Antonio, heir to one of Sicily's last large rural estates. Eva prefers the city to country life, while her husband is constantly haunted by personal demons and past jealousies. In view of family squabbles and external influences, with a changing society and even the murderous Mafia encroaching upon their happiness, does the marriage stand a chance? Here, told from the parallel perspectives of husband and wife, is the tale of a modern couple's very traditional challenges over the course of twenty-five years. The old Sicily is vanishing, to be replaced by new realities...

The Author: Bologna native Daniela Di Benedetto has spent most of her life in Palermo, where she studied music and earned a degree in humanities. In Sicilian Dynasty, she combines an outsider's objectivity with an insider's insight into life in Sicily. She is part of the first wave of Sicilian women authors to make its way to distant shores.

Published by Trinacria Editions (New York), ISBN 9780991588619

Monday, March 10, 2014

St Joseph's Day 2014

Wednesday, March 19th is Saint Joseph's Day, when Sicilians celebrate with cream-filled sfinci.

While this seems to be a rather popular "ethnic" holiday among Italian descendants abroad, it really isn't extremely important here in Italy, at least not anymore. It is not a national holiday - banks and schools will be open. Nothing like Saint Patrick's Day in Ireland, two days earlier.

But still a great reason to indulge in delicious pastry!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Don't ride in rickshaws!

The motorized passenger rickshaw is a three-wheel vehicle common on the streets of Italian cities, especially in the South. In Sicily, you'll see them in Palermo and Siracusa, where the drivers give rides to tourists.

In Siracusa's serene Ortygia district, which is partly closed to traffic and where the courteous drivers guide you at a moderate pace, a leisurely rickshaw ride through the narrow streets of the ancient city is usually enjoyable. That's how it should be.

But in Palermo that is not the case. There have been some serious traffic accidents and injuries involving rickshaws in Palermo, though (thus far) no fatalities as far as we know, and the drivers are less polite than those of Siracusa. In this chaotic city, where the rickshaw drivers speed through the streets, you board one of these vehicles at your own risk. Even if you survive the ride, you stand to be overcharged on the fare.

The Palermo rickshaw drivers don't just park in a convenient area (those in Siracusa prefer the square next to the cathedral), but instead circulate the old part of town in search of prey. They actually drive up alongside pedestrians and try to coax them into boarding - these are desparate times and some drivers may practically insist that you purchase their services! Just ignore them.

You have been warned.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Giant Steps?

It's no surprise that the Italian economy is in extremely bad shape. One in three Italians under 35 is unemployed, and some 20 percent of Italians aged 21 do not have a secondary school diploma. These figures are more extreme in Sicily. It was recently reported by the Italian education journal Orizzonte Scuola that around 25 percent of Sicilians quit school by the age of 16. (The European average is about 15 percent of young adults lacking a high school diploma.)

Recent suggestions by the new government include expanding unemployment benefits to people (such as those outsourced as external consultants) who were not actually employed. Small steps, not giant ones. Italy still has no minimum wage, and only 50 percent of Italian women are wage earners.

Will Italy bounce back? Not completely, at least not like it did after past recessions.

Why not?

This time is different. Companies are leaving in droves, with FIAT leading the herd. They won't be coming back. And there are new players now, in a truly global economy that barely existed 20 years ago. Within Europe, there are new members of the EU like Romania, where Unicredit, Italy's largest bank, has one of its main computer centers. China, of course, is more significant than it was back in 1980, and so is India.

Instead of creating incentives for business, Italy is taxing its citizens like never before.

Italy is still a great place to visit, but as a permanent residence it presents certain challenges.