Written by Megan Kessler (Brandeis University)
History of Art and Italian Studies in Siena, Student Correspondent, Spring 2013
One month left from this coming Sunday. I cannot believe it. Where has the time gone? It seems like I was just arriving here in the 30 degree cold weather and today it was 70 degrees and beautiful outside. Today is also the 3rd Monday of April and in Massachusetts that is synonymous with three things: Spring Break, Patriots Day, and the Boston Marathon. I am fortunate enough to live in the town where the Boston Marathon starts, 26.2 miles from the finish line on Boylston Street. We had just finished up dinner tonight and I was helping my host mom clear the table when I started to tell her about my traditions at home on this Marathon Monday. Shortly after I walked over to my computer to receive a message from my friend at home that there had been a bombing at the finish line on the race just after the elite runners had finished. My heart dropped to hear this news, luckily I have not heard of any loved ones being hurt.
I sit here now, thousands of miles away, as a tragedy happens at home. This is something I would have never thought I would be experiencing while studying abroad. They don’t teach you this coping skill in your meetings at school before you leave. Yet right away I received text messages on my Italian cell phone from my friends here at CET. It was amazing to feel that kind of support from friends who I have only known for three months, yet know me too and saw how this directly affected me. This kind of support I also did not know I would experiencing abroad. We are all each other’s’ closest thing to home and its incredibly comforting to know that I can count on my 9 new friends and of course our program director, Christina.
Now on a more positive note, I believe one of the main reasons we are all so bonded is probably due to our traveling seminar to Catania, Sicily. This trip is included in our program fee and a credit of the Italian Cultural History course that is required. Coming from Siena to Catania, the sun and warm weather was just what we all needed. We left thursday morning on a short flight from Florence to Catania and returned home Sunday evening just in time for dinner. I was very excited to go to Catania because, as someone who has focused their travels here in Europe to Italy first and then other countries, this was my opportunity to experience the south. As one might know, il Sud is considered something very different from the rest of Italy. The stereotypes exist that life there is very slow, the dialect is very hard to understand, the mafia control everything, and il pesce is plentiful. I believe that all of these can be true in some respect, but after our weekend in Catania we learned so much more about this beautiful island and culture. While in Catania we were traveling and had free time, yet also attended lectures with the local CET Italian cultural history professor. This Sicilian woman educated us on history, culture, and people of Catania. Sicily has always been ruled by foreign powers so you can really see the french, arab, and spanish influence on the culture particularly in the food and language. The food was pleasantly different from that of my beloved Tuscan cuisine. I really enjoyed pasta alla norma and the beautiful antipasto plates they had with delicious veggies.
My favorite activity of the weekend by far was the hiking of Mount Etna. It was so cool to see the towns that live around an active volcano. You can see the ash from the lava flows all over the buildings. We all had so much fun hiking around and checking out all of the stone with our knowledgeable Italian tour guide, Roberto. What a geologist he was! None of this would have been possible without Christina. She essentially led 10 college students throughout a weekend tour of Catania. We did so much in so little time from the main Duomo, to the fish market, to the delicious food of small, cheap, and delicious trattorie. You Only Sicily Once.
Written by Aimee Crouch (University of Iowa – Iowa City)
History of Art and Italian Studies in Siena, Student Correspondent, Fall 2012
Last week Thursday we left Siena and went to Sicily for our Italian Cultural History class. It was quite the trip! We had to leave early Thursday morning to catch a bus to Florence, hopped on a bus to the airport, flew into Rome, sat in the Rome airport for a couple hours, flew from Rome to Catania. However, the Catania airport is closed due to construction on the runway so we flew into the Military base then took a bus to the airport, then another bus from the airport to the hotel. It was a hassle but we did it and all got there in one piece! It was a grand total of 11 hours traveling time. Once we arrived at the hotel my suitcase, the one dad and I had to buy when going to London, completely broke… it was not funny. All the wheels went rolling down the steps and it was a disaster, really embarrassing actually… so I had to buy ANOTHER suitcase. Let’s hope this one holds up! That night we went to dinner with the other CET students that are studying in Florence. After dinner we went right to bed! We were really tired!
Friday morning we walked to the WWII museum, which I really liked. We got to see the uniforms, we sat in an anti-raid shelter and felt what it would have been like during the bombings, wax figures of Roosevelt, old guns used, we heard stories from men that were alive during this time period, etc… It was really neat to learn about the invasion of Sicily during WWII. Of course, we had a worksheet to fill out during the tour… school. We went to lunch at a little restaurant we found and it was DELICIOUS! After lunch I had a chocolate cannoli…I couldn’t get over how good it was, oh my word!! After lunch we had a two hour class, a 15 min break after, then a 2 hour meeting with an Anti-Mafia Organization. That was really neat to hear how they prevent the Mafia from taking over all the shops in Sicily. Fact: over 80% of the shops in Sicily pay money to the mafia. Also, every $10 I spent there, $8 of it went to the Mafia in some sort of way! Unbelievable isn’t it?! That night we went to dinner and found dessert with some of the girls from the Florence group. We had a blast with them! They were a great group of girls! I’m bummed we met them so late into the program because we would have been able to take trips with them if we had known them beforehand!
Saturday morning we were back in the classroom for another 2 hour lecture about food and how most of the Italian traditions come from the Arabic culture. It was interesting but did not need to be 2 hours long that’s for sure!! After class we went to the fish market with a lady and her family. They own a bed and breakfast in Sicily and let us come and have a tour and have a cooking class with them! It was great! Then we had a little bit of free time to eat lunch so the same girls from Florence and us Siena girls went to find the famous Sicilian dish, arancino. It’s a big ball of rice that’s fried but has other mixings inside. So yummy!! Oh my goodness! I think I gained 15 lbs there! Then of course I had to try the pistachio cannoli… After lunch we hopped on a bus and went to the bed and breakfast! This was a really neat place. It was family owned for many years, dating back to the 1600′s. It was absolutely beautiful. The cooking lesson was great. They use sardines in EVERYTHING!!! Not a fan. I did try them but meh… so nasty!! A fun fact is that Oprah Winfrey stayed at this Bed and Breakfast once. Like anyone really cares… Sunday morning we had another lecture in the morning then the rest of the day was free. It was nice to have a free day but we had four papers to write about the trip so that was a bummer. None of us really got to explore a whole lot because we were writing the papers and doing all the assigned readings! It was a lot of work. We flew back home (aka “Siena”) Monday but we didn’t get back until late that night.
Written by Aimee Crouch (University of Iowa – Iowa City)
History of Art and Italian Studies in Siena, Student Correspondent, Fall 2012
We don’t get weekends in Siena very often because we travel so much (I’m not complaining), so last weekend we had a roommate dinner that Sunday night, which was a blast! We made homemade gnocchi in a sage and butter sauce and vegetable concoction! Yummyyy!
This past weekend Frances invited me to go with her and her mom to Lake Como (where George Clooney owns a home). I was so excited because this weekend was an Italian holiday so we had a four day weekend and I was going to be alone in Siena. Literally every person I knew was leaving town!! Thank goodness for Frances!! We had a great time! We stayed in this beautiful villa overlooking the lake. The mountains in Switzerland were just to the left of the villa! Literally absolutely beautiful and breathtaking! We arrived in Milan Friday morning and toured around Bellagio for a bit then headed to Lake Como. Saturday we toured the towns and shopped. We had lunch in Lake Como where I was proposed to by the waiter… super awkward yet hilarious. He tried putting his ring on my finger but I declined. The language barrier wouldn’t have worked Then we headed back to Bellagio and made dinner at home. Frances and I tried a sauna for the first time and we both hated it. We lasted for about 5 minutes then got out as fast as we could! It hurts your face and I couldn’t breathe… I don’t know how people find that enjoyable at all. Sunday morning we packed up and headed back to Siena! It was a great time!
Next Thursday we head to Sicily for five days for class! I’m really excited for that because that’s actually where I wanted to study but the program didn’t run this semester due to lack of interest. Other than that, not much else is new here. Yesterday marked the 6 weeks left in Italy. So sad! I can’t believe time has gone by so fast! I am excited to go home and be with my family over the holidays though, there’s nothing better than that!
I decided to put together my top ten everything thus far. I haven’t gotten to go everywhere and see everything I’ve wanted to but I think this will give everyone a good look at what there is here and how much I’ve loved being here.
We only have six weeks left… I cannot believe it. Where did the time go?! Time certainly does fly when you’re having fun!
Here are my three top ten lists!
2. Lake Como
4. Cinque Terre
8. Upside down chocolate cake
10. Meat platters
Things To Do In Siena:
1. Visit the piazza
2. Visit the Duomo
3. Visit the Piazza Pubblico
4. Walking and exploring
6. Trying out all the ristoranti possible
7. Trying out all the gelaterias possible
8. Night life… get to meet Italians our age
9. Contrada parties
10. Climb the Tower (Torre del Mangia)
(There’s so much more but I only chose my top 10!)
“Pizzo” refers to the protection money paid to the Mafia by businesses in Southern Italy, which is usually obtained by coercion and extortion. “Pizzo” is the Sicilian word for “beak” and it renders the image of a hungry bird pecking around to get every little bit of food that it can. AddioPizzo, by publishing its “Pizzo Free” list of businesses that have agreed not to pay the Pizzo and also to press charges against anyone who comes to them to ask for money, has created a network of support and information that empowers Sicilian business owners to fight back.
Despite their efforts, the practice is still widespread (it is estimated that 80% of the businesses in Catania and Palermo pay the Pizzo), but little by little they hope to overcome the mentality of fear and silence that allows this phenomenon to remain entrenched in local society. Each term CET Italy staff members organize meetings with its Florence, Siena and Catania students to talk with the volunteers of AddioPizzo and help the them understand what the modern day Mafia in Sicily looks like. At the most recent meeting arranged for students of the CET Sicily program, a journalist and photographer from the local ‘La Sicilia’ newspaper were present, and on June 27th an article about the meeting was published in the paper. Below is the English translation of the story.
An Anti-Mafia Crash Course: 10 American students meet with local youth engaged in the fight against racketeering and usury.
On June 29th, 2004, on small leaflets posted throughout the streets of the city center, Palermo read this message for the first time: “An entire population that pays the ‘pizzo’ is a population without dignity.” So began the adventure of AddioPizzo’s young volunteers, with this gesture carried out by 7 local citizens, little more than 30 years old, who decided to break down the wall of silence that gripped civil society, and to explain their motivations for doing so a few days later in an open letter to local and national newspapers. AddioPizzo is a movement that has taken on the role of spokesperson for the “cultural revolution” against the Mafia. In Catania the association was founded in 2006 and today has 10 active members who organize conferences and initiatives in schools and throughout the city. They have even obtained a center, which they share with the local branch of Libera, in Picanello, in an apartment that was sequestered from a Mafia criminal and donated to the groups for their activities.
“Sicily” as explained to American students. Terms like “Mafia,” “Racket” and “Pizzo.” Today’s classes included discussions on these topics at CET Catania – which organizes study programs in Sicily on behalf of American Universities – with the Resident Director Anna Di Biase, who has worked for CET in Florence and Siena and this summer is coordinating the programs in Catania, CET Professor Alessandra Nucifora, Prof. Alessandro Zannirato from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who was born in Varese and has been teaching abroad for 8 years, and the volunteers of AddioPizzo.
The meeting began with an introductory video, which explained the current meaning of “Pizzo,” here and elsewhere in Sicily; from [Vincenzo] Conticello’s ‘Antica Focacceria’ in Palermo, to the story of Libero Grassi, the charges that have been made, the homicides, and the birth of the AddioPizzo movement on the spontaneous initiative of a few 30-somethings from Palermo who finally said “basta,” enough. The debate then began in earnest and it immediately became evident from their questions that the American students still have an understanding of the Mafia largely based on books and movies. Zannirato confirmed that: “there are two challenges we face: they have an understanding of the Mafia shaped by American movies – for them “Mafia” is an amusing term, but when I compared it to Al Qaeda during the introduction to the class, they weren’t laughing anymore. Then, their moral outlook is based on the concept of individual responsibility, as opposed to collective responsibility.”
Ermanno Napolitano gave an explanation in English to the students, 10 of them in all, of what AddioPizzo is; he was joined by Valentina Trovato, Adriana Belpasso and the Vice President of the association Riccardo Maita. “We work to kick-start people’s awareness” Valentina explained, “and first of all to change the Mafia mentality.” This all occurs through scholastic projects, ethical consumerism and solidarity, in collaboration with other anti-racket associations, which physically accompany victims to press charges for threats made against them. AddioPizzo has officially been a part of the circuit of anti-racket associations in Catania for some time. As part of their activities they organize meetings and conferences and meet with students in schools. The students asked whom victims could turn to for help if they were threatened in the years before AddioPizzo existed: “there was the police” – Valentina clarified – “but in Palermo the anti-racket associations were founded after AddioPizzo, whereas in Catania things developed differently, here there are associations that have been actively present for 20 years.”
A student asked what pushed them to become a part of AddioPizzo: “I didn’t think I could do anything as a free citizen” – said Adriana Belfiore “because I thought that these issues had to be handled by the institutions, but then I understood that I could do something too, and the AddioPizzo project seemed like the most well-established approach to making a change.” Riccardo Maita, the 21 year old Vice President, recalls that his first encounter with the association occurred when he was in high school, while working on project to draft a law proposal with his classmates: “from that moment on the association became a part of my life, to the point that I became Vice President.” The students asked if pressing charges against intimidators leads to retaliation. Riccardo responded, explaining that data from multiple anti-racket associations in Catania indicates that victims who press charges are subsequently left alone by the Mafia. At this, one student marveled “why do they keep paying the Pizzo? Why don’t they immediately cooperate with these groups that are offering to help them?” The answer was that it’s a question of mentality, that she needs to look at Sicilian history to understand when and how the Mafia took the place of the State in Sicily, how it practically has become the guarantor for a system of protection and easy money that for many people is extremely difficult to fight.
At the end of the meeting Etta Berkland, 21, from the University of Minnesota, shared her newfound understanding of the phenomenon: “whenever I heard about the Mafia, “The Godfather” came to mind, but now I understand that it’s like a bad dream, that it has roots here and a presence in politics, businesses and much more. It’s worse than I thought and it hurts me to think that such a beautiful place could be associated with such a terrible phenomenon.”