Why Sicily is “Italy” without being Italian: my 3 reasons (history, cultural ambiguity, culinary fusion).
Why Sicily is “Italy” without Being Italian: My 3 Reasons
When I am asked to describe or to make recommendations about Sicily I often find myself pausing for an uncomfortable amount of time. Where to start?
First of all, even if you are a connoisseur of Italy, you can't expect to understand Sicily simply because it is a region of the country. Sicily is Sicily.
"To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything."
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Goethe certainly appreciated Sicily as an essential element of “Italy.” Goethe (the German writer, philosopher and diplomat) visited and wrote about Sicily in the late 1800’s even before Italy was united (the nation-state was established only in the 1860s). Has unification and over 100 years of history changed much? No, and by the way, I think that travelers to Italy are fascinated by that stillness in the first place and then they fall in love with the rest.
So, when I say “Sicily is Sicily” and Goethe writes “Sicily is the clue to everything” who is right? Probably me (sorry, Johann) but in all honesty, there is no good answer and the attempt to dissect Sicily can really embarrass anyone, myself or Goethe. That being said, here are my reasons why Sicily is “Italy” without being Italian.
Reason Number One: History
Because of Sicily’s geographical position (right in the center of the Meditennean, midway between the Arabic world, Northern Africa and the European continent), it saw and was influenced by many invaders and more or less powerful yet peaceful settlers. The unification of Italy was an akward act carried out (through Garibaldi’s docking in Marsala with his 1,000 redshirts) by the Piedmontese, a population just as distant to Sicily (in that time’s vision) as any Northern European entity.
Reason Number Two: Cultural Ambiguity
Is Sicily Italian, North African, or Arabic? Norman or Spaniard, perhaps? The answer is, it’s all of them, and this cultural ambiquity is substance not folklore. That is why simply saying Sicily is Italy is reductive. And being an island all of those influences stagnated there and did not get diluted with modern philosophies. Sicily hardly saw the Renaissance.
Reason Number Three: Culinary Fusion
Couscous is one of the regional specialties (nowhere else in Italy) and sweet and sour taste is present in many of Sicily's signature dishes (nowhere else in Italy). For instance, a dish served with sliced blood oranges, peanuts and raisins over the fresh catch from the Southern Mediterranean is not something you'll find in Italian cookbooks. All of the different culinary influences gain flavor thanks to amazing local products kissed by the sun almost year round. Some say it is the very best food in “Italy” and something that mirrors Sicilian diversity from the rest of the country.
As I travel through the Western part of Trinacria (the ancient name of the island – actually a triangle) with Giuseppe Di Giorgio, my friend from Palermo and Tourissimo collaborator, we observe, but try not to problem solve (no one here does - not to be confused with apathy).
I have learned from Giuseppe that Sicily is experiencing a rebirth thanks to many grassroots movements finally said enough with feudalism, corruption and mafia. During part of our tour we will learn what this means and how it is being implemented. I’ll give you a hint and that is that it has a lot to do with the local resources (often away from the busy coast) that are loaded with culture and tradition: agriculture (farming). We feel that the type of tourism that we promote can be of some help and in the right way.
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