Italia! What a marvelous culture and so much older than my America.
In Italy they recognize, celebrate and preserve their national heritage and traditions with honor, pride and courage.
Here, published in L’italo-Americano, is one of those traditions.
Sicily’s storytelling traditions
Since the first days of language, humans have been passing on stories. From the sea shanties of Cornwall to the shadow puppetry of China, from the creation tales of Hula dancing to the drama of Caribbean calypso. Sicily is no different: its puppetry, dating back to Medieval times, is famous the world over for telling tales of knights in battle. But there’s another story too, the tradition of cuntu, dating back to Greek theatre and based on both sung verse and spoken prose. To discover its compelling history we have to go back to the ancient world.
Many modern cultures and languages can trace their origins to ancient ancestors, typically reaching back across decades, centuries and even millennia. European languages from Spanish to Portuguese, Romanian to English, for example, all owe a large debt of gratitude to the ancient Romans. Vulgar Latin forms the basis for several languages spoken by a sizeable proportion of the world’s population, not least of course Italians inhabiting the beautiful Mediterranean peninsula and beyond.
Within some circles there is even a view that Sicilian, rather than being simply another dialect of Italian, was actually the first to have developed from ancient Latin. And certainly there are persuasive similarities that seem to suggest that words in use today evolved from Latin through Sicilian to the Tuscan that would go on to become the national language.
But whilst the language of this spectacular island obviously springs from ancient Roman roots, it also draws considerably upon the tongues of the many people who came as occupiers and conquerors, namely the Carthaginians, Arabs, French, Spanish and, most notably, the ancient Greeks.
Evidence of the Hellenic Republic’s presence percolates throughout the island. From the sublime Doric temple filled landscape of southern Sicily, to the ancient theatre in Taormina on the eastern coast. Add in the language of poets and an alphabet that persisted through to the Middle Ages and it’ s easy to see how the Greek love of language and theatre evolved into the islanders’ unique storytelling tradition of cuntu.
The word cuntu is, simply enough, defined as an account, statement or novella. For locals its true cultural meaning, however, goes much deeper, conjuring up thoughts of fables, fairy tales and fantastic anecdotes of chivalrous adventure. Sometimes puppets are used – they’re a significant part of Sicilian folklore – but for the most part cuntu is the ageless, almost extinct art of spoken word street storytelling.
Long before the age of cinema, television and social media, Sicilian cuntisti made their livelihoods breathing life into epic tales for the amusement of their audiences. But unlike classic theatre that demands a platform, stage or playhouse to host its sagas, cuntu and cuntisti need little more than a street corner, park or town square to accommodate their stories. The staging needs no painted scenery, no costumes, no smoke or mirrors and no props, because cuntu storytellers conjure everything in the minds of the audience with the pure and humble power of the spoken word.
Before they could weave their words, worlds and warriors into epic tales Sicilian cuntisti would study the art form as apprentices. Skills were passed down from father to son, specialist to student, often over the course of a youngster’s childhood or early teens, before they made their debut as adults. Pupils didn’t just need to learn the stories however, they needed to learn the art of delivery to convey every emotion from envy to desire, from betrayal to lust. They needed to learn the parts and the characters, the twists and turns they were to take and the nuances necessary to breathe life into each one, opening a window into another world.
Cuntisti, crucially, also needed to learn to “feel” the breath of their characters, as well as that of their audience. They told tales whilst others listened with baited breath. They used pauses and inhalations to inspire gasps and gulps, as they put flesh and bone to their characters. And they employed spoken words to develop a rhythm, driving the pace to simultaneously create a personal and collective vision.
It’s storytelling at its best. And what stories they told.
Classic cuntu accounts often drew on tales of saints, soldiers and bandits, especially the stories of the Paladins of France. Sometimes known as the 12 peers, the paladins were warriors of Charlemagne’s Dark Age court representing Christian valor against Saracen hoards. And although their exploits were the largely fictional creations of imaginative 8th century writers, they drew together elements of several theatrical and literary traditions to create chivalrous heroes and romantic leads that still play out in modern culture today.
Cuntisti would tell of Orlando, Charlemagne’s nephew and chief hero amongst the paladins. Or recount the exploits of Oliver, Orlando’s rival. They breathed life into Ganelon, the traitor who would later appear in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. And each of the twelve men inspired stories of gallant skirmishes and victorious romance that still resonate today.
For the ordinary populace, the arrival of the cuntisti on the streets of their town was a special event. Cuntu kept legends alive, inspiring generation after generation with suspense, battle and redemption. And they were as important to Sicilian culture as Shakespeare was to the British and Dante was to Florentines.
Today, modern cuntu adaptations are reworking ancient stories weaving contemporary living material into Greek and Saracen legends to revive this almost extinct art form. Storytellers such as Alessio Di Modica, Enzo Mancuso and Mimmo Cuticchio have reinvigorated this noble art through the improvisation of daily tales. And now, this ancient yet modern talent is reaching a new audience via the virtual streets and piazze of YouTube and social media.
So as the days shorten, the nights draw in and thoughts turn to TV box sets or binge watching the latest Netflix series, remember there is another choice. The cuntisti of Sicily now stand on every street corner of the world via the wonder of the internet, and they have a long tradition of story-telling that will fascinate and entertain just as it has for centuries. The story starts as it always has, with the words that every child recognizes: c’era una volta….once upon a time.
Do you ever stand there staring like a deer in headlights when looking at the vast displays of olive oil to choose from? I know how to tell if it’s from Italy, but beyond that I am clueless. Well, I admit I was until I came across this great article that explains what to look for! Felice per la cottura! (Happy cooking!)
When it comes to quality olive oil, Italy certainly holds the world’s first place. Yet, do we really know how to recognize a truly good olive oil from a mediocre one?
Here are some simple rules to recognize a quality extra virgin olive oil.
First of all, always go for dark bottles that protect their content from light and avoid its oxidation.
Labels should give us basic information:
The olives’ geographical origin…
Where they have been pressed…
Where the oil has been bottled.
Checkmate to bad olive oil: here are some simple rules to recognize a quality extra virgin oil.
Acidity should always be lower than 3%.
Olives should always be cold pressed, which means the process should take place at less than 27 degree Celsius to keep flavors intact.
Color and clearness are important parameters to recognize a quality extra virgin oil.
It shouldn’t be too liquid, as it would mean it contains high quantities of polyunsaturated fats.
It should smell fresh, with hints of freshly cut grass, tomato peels, almonds, and artichoke leaves.
It should taste bitter and tangy, that is, rich in polyphenols!
Make sure its expiration date isn’t over 18 months from production and that price isn’t lower than 18 USD per litre (15 Euro).
If all these parameters are met, than you got yourself a great bottle of extra virgin olive oil! Try it also to fry: it’ll surprise you.
And of course, always check the label says 100% Italian.
Article credit to L’Italio Americano, and Varinia Cappelletti.
One is never too old to learn. How did I miss this amazing looking school along my life’s journey? I want to become a student once again and study at this incredible looking place! My dream/wish is that a group of Flight Crew people would all go over together and immerse ourselves in this beautiful culture, language, and people. To sit at tables on a beautiful patio, surrounded by flowers and country side where you view rolling hills and cypress trees as far as the eye can see, while sharing wine and our life stories with each other. To go to the market together and choose fresh ingredients, then gather around a small table in a warm Italian kitchen and learn the art of making true Italian pasta. To study and have fun learning as a group their beautiful romantic language. I may be a dreamer, but it’s a beautiful thought.
FOR OVER 30 YEARS, Il SASSO ITALIAN LANGUAGE SCHOOL …
has been running courses in Montepulciano, in the heart of Tuscany. The school offers Italian courses for speakers of other languages studying in small groups and individually. There are six different levels, corresponding to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Il Sasso also runs art history, wine, cookery, literature and current affairs mini-courses, as well as courses to prepare students for the CELI and CILS exams. The school is recognised by the Italian Education Ministry and certified to ISO 9001:2008 standards. It is a medium sized school with a reputation for excellence, and is open all year round. Students of all ages come to study here from all over the world.
Enjoy this fun video.
Article excerpt and video credits to L’Italo-Americano Newspaper
Photo of Tuscany countryside from Tuscanyphotos.com
Christmas In Italy
From Kathy McCabe, Dream of Italy.
While millions of people travel to Italy during the summer months, if they only knew the treasures that would await them by taking a winter break instead and enjoying the magic of Christmas in Italy. Yes, the holiday has become a bit more commercialized here in recent years. Yet, Christmas in Italy is still a holiday of family, spirituality, food, lights, age-old artistry and the wonder of miracles.
From the Christmas markets in Alto-Aldige to a 250-person strong live Nativity pageant in Puglia, there are Christmas enchantments and surprises in every corner of Italy.
Piero, Ignazio, and Gianluca we know you are back home in your beloved Italy just in time for the holidays. Here are our Christmas wishes just for you…
I wish you precious time to be surrounded by the loving people who are so important to you in your life.
Credit to all owners of photos.
Article excerpt from Dream Of Italy.
I recently came across several quotes that jumped off the page at me, making me think of none other than our three guys and the charming, alluring country they come from.
See if you agree…
“Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.” – Truman Capote, American writer.
“My favorite thing about Milan is that you see these guys, and it’s as if a spaceship came out of the most attractive planet invented and just dropped them off all across the city.” – Brad Goreski, Canadian stylist.
“Rome, the city of visible history.” – George Eliot, English writer.
“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” – Giuseppe Verdi, Italian composer.
“In Italy, they add work and life on to food and wine.” – Robin Leach, English writer.
“And that is … how they are. So terribly physically all over one another. They pour themselves one over the other like so much melted butter over parsnips. They catch each other under the chin, with a tender caress of the hand, and they smile with sunny melting tenderness into each other’s face.” – D.H. Lawrence, English novelist.
The last one sums it up so perfectly. The young men of Il Volo show their love and affection for each other and all those around them so easily. They love having us complete strangers, give them hugs, kisses, and gifts! We as fans love being close to them as much as they love being close to us! Are we lucky or what?
Credit to all owners of photos.
This great little link was sent to us by Ann! For me, you can leave out the sardines, eggplant, and ricotta, but several of the desserts sound awesome, like the 7-layer chocolate cake! The actual article is from 2014, but food never goes out of date!
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Happy #FoodieFriday! Which of these Sicilian dishes is your favorite?
However, surprise, surprise, no Chicken Marsala? Here is my favorite chicken marsala recipe, based on Ignazio’s!
Jana’s Chicken Marsala
Take your pounded thin skinless chicken breasts and pat them in a mixture of 3 parts flour, and 1 part cocoa, and about a tablespoon of cinnamon. Season with salt, pepper, and Italian seasonings. Saute them in a mixture of about a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of olive oil and half stick of butter. And can’t forget the freshly sliced/chopped whole clove of garlic, or leave the little cloves whole, and another tablespoon of cinnamon. 🙂 After getting crispy on both sides, add in about a cup of Marsala wine, use the darker sweet version. I also make another pan of the Marsala wine with more butter and olive oil and add my mushrooms to that. There never seems to be enough! Thicken the sauce if you like. Take out the chicken, spoon the mushroom sauce over chicken, garnish with freshly chopped Italian parsley, and serve immediately with your favorite pasta, and vegetable. Although, it seems common to serve with little roasted potatoes in Italy. Why not try it with a blood orange salad, also popular in Sicily? I found this recipe here:
And who can forget the famous and cute little video of Ignazio teaching us how to cook chicken Scalloppine alla Marsala! We’ve posted it before, but ever so cute!! (although, someone needs to tell him you really don’t want to use cooking Marsala…you want the real stuff!)