Closing 2015 with The Story of the Lost Child

Little girl statue edited

Little girl at Casa Guidi

 

Opening 2016 with a poem

I ended 2015 reading Elena Ferrante’s fourth and final Neapolitan novel, The Story of the Lost Child, and this first week of 2016, a poem of mine, “At Casa Guidi,” was published in Loveliest Magazine.

Italy. Children. Creativity. I hadn’t planned this, but the poem and Ferrante’s novel have these in common. (The similarities end there – Elena Ferrante is a world-renowned author; I’m a novice poet.)

First, the poem. Some years ago I traveled to Florence with my sister-in-law, and we visited Casa Guidi, the home of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning in the Oltrarno quarter, where many artists and writers lived. Later, recalling our visit, I was inspired to write “At Casa Guidi.”

Loveliest Magazine, a new venue “for storytelling and togetherness,” caught my eye when I read the words “slow-lifestyle” and “literary” to describe its cross-genre purpose. That’s me, for sure, so I thought my poetry might be a good fit. Beautifully written and produced independent literary and lifestyle publications such as Loveliest often look for good fiction, poetry, and essays; if you’d like to see your work published consider submitting to these in addition to traditional literary journals.

 

Little boy statue edited

Little boy at Casa Guidi

 

If you are ever in Florence, be sure to visit this quieter part of the city, the Oltrarno, which literally means “beyond the Arno River.” In addition to the must-see attractions and many great works of art, Oltrarno streets are lined with stationery stores featuring the things writers love: Italian-made note papers and leather journals, ornate fountain pens, inks in every shade and color. When I was there, I bought a small, leather-bound copy of Sonnets from the Portuguese, and my sister-in-law bought a print of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper.

Closing 2015 with Elena Ferrante

I’ve written about Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels in a previous post.  The Story of the Lost Child is Ferrante’s fourth and final novel in her Neapolitan series. The books are a probing look at the inner life of a writer; a family saga; a soap opera; a history of Italian feminism, culture and politics; and more.

So much has been said about these singular, internationally bestselling novels and their mysterious author, who publishes under a pseudonym, that I’ll simply add my thoughts here. (That we don’t know the identity of the author adds to the power of her work, in my opinion.)

If you look at the book covers you’ll see dreamy, idealized illustrations that are misleading: the story of the lifelong friendship between Lila and Elena, born in Naples just after World War II, can often be raw, brutally honest, and bleak. The book covers belie the content, but perhaps that was intentional, as if to say: think again if you expect a story filled with roses and happy endings….

I wouldn’t say I was always entertained by the books, because they can be relentless in their depiction of Napoli poverty and the battle between the sexes in an era when feminism blossomed. But, as many readers do, I became obsessed with Lila and Elena and had to keep on reading to see what became of them.

  • Ferrante’s work is especially meaningful to me because my father was Sicilian. Now I better understand the values, traditions, and struggles of my Italian ancestors and how these may have had an impact on my own childhood. The cultural history of Italy and its focus on family reminded me of one of my favorite Italian movies, The Best of Youth. Although I have not yet read My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgard, it sounds as though Ferrante’s penetrating look at the psychology of growing up and growing older may have similarities with Knausgard’s autobiographical series.
  • As a writer, I was especially taken with Elena’s love/jealousy/hatred of her friend, Lila. Though Elena was the outwardly successful one, with several novels published and lauded as a scholar of literature and culture, she always believed Lila was the more talented of the two, the one with wildness, fire, and true originality.  It’s often a struggle when I write to break out of my safe, everyday self and give creativity free reign. The genius of the Neapolitan novels is that Elena and Lila’s story can be read as the author’s own creative struggle with a psyche split in two.

 

IMG_2446

 

Elena and her friend, Lila, are strong women, survivors. Here is Elena during the earthquake in Naples, 1980:

“I felt that fear in me could not put down roots, and even the lava, the fiery stream of melting matter settled in my mind in orderly sentences, a pavement of black stones like the streets of Naples, where I was always and no matter what at the center. Everything that struck me–my studies, books, Franco, Pietro, the children, Nino, the earthquake–would pass, and I, whatever I among those I was accumulating, I would remain firm.”  – The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

 

My Brilliant Friend book coverThe Story of a New Name book coverThose Who Leave and Those Who Stay book cover

This Changes Everything

“…only mass social movements can save us now.”  Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate

This Changes Everything book cover

Notice the cover. No author, no subtitle. One clear message.

 “….this impossibly thin blue curve keeps everything alive beneath it.”  Reid Wiseman, #spacetweets.  

For starters, take two and a half minutes to watch astronaut Reid Wiseman’s video, “A Photo I Love,” and then come back here. You’ll see a new view of Italy (some of you know how much I love Italy). Notice in particular Reid’s photo of the earth’s atmosphere, “….so blue, so incredibly thin….” and Reid’s tweets (#spacetweets).

I wanted to begin on an upbeat note, hence Reid’s video of “watching our earth be alive” that so vividly highlights what the stakes are when it comes to the climate debate. It’s not that Canadian journalist Naomi Klein doesn’t offer hope in her latest book, This Changes Everything. Certainly, she does, but this is a read with plenty of emotional lows before you get to the highs.

This Changes Everything is proving to be enormously influential as well as controversial. If I read her correctly, Klein does not advocate a dismantling of capitalism, but her book is indeed a polemic against the extreme version of capitalism that pervades much of the world today. Her message is that the earth cannot possibly continue to sustain a world economy based on unlimited growth and the endless extraction of resources. We need to change course to keep the earth’s warming under two degrees Celsius (this is according to many climate scientists, who also maintain that a warming of four degrees Celsius would be catastrophic). We need to act now, on a massive scale.

If you care deeply about climate change, I highly recommend putting This Changes Everything at the top of your to-read list. There is so much I don’t know about this huge topic. Though I’ve been against fracking (recently outlawed here in New York), I didn’t know much about it, and I knew absolutely nothing of Canada’s tar sands project and its devastations. Klein brought me up to date on all of this, as well as the current climate change activist scene. She synthesized an enormous amount of research, which makes for slow reading at times, but it’s worth it if you want the big picture.

Here are some things I learned that surprised me:

  • We’ve come a long way with alternative energy technologies. It seems like a no-brainer – if we can meet our energy needs at very little cost using solar, wind, and other technologies, why would we continue using expensive and dirty fossil fuels?
  • Native Americans and indigenous populations around the world are winning important victories against the fossil fuel industry, more so than activists in the mainstream. In Canada and the US, for example, some of these groups, by treaty, retain rights to their land, including the right to make a living from it. The courts have, in many cases, upheld these rights, effectively blocking or delaying extraction projects. These delays have given alternative energy technologies time to develop.
  • Though it’s important for developed countries to convert to clean energy, it’s crucial that we help developing countries turn to clean energy, too–otherwise we’ll never be able to stop global warming. Klein and others maintain that, since developed countries have grown wealthy from fossil fuels, we have a responsibility to help developing countries pay for their energy infrastructures.

A New York Times review called This Changes Everything “…the most momentous and contentious book since Silent Spring,” and “…a book of such ambition and consequence it is almost unreviewable.”

This Changes Everything is absolutely a book that can save lives.

Have you read This Changes Everything? Do you recommend other important books about this topic? If so, please do in the comments. And if you care about climate change, I hope you’ll share this post.

Scopello sunset

What we don’t want to lose. View of Zingaro Nature Preserve in Sicily. (Photo by A. Hallinan)

Mysterious Elena

“I concluded that first of all I had to understand better what I was. Investigate my nature as a woman. I had been excessive. I had striven to give myself male capacities. I had thought I had to know everything, be concerned with everything. What did I care about politics, about struggles. I wanted to make a good impression on men, be at their level. At the level of what, of their reason, most unreasonable. Such persistence in memorizing fashionable jargon, wasted effort. I had been conditioned by my education, which had shaped my mind, my voice. To what secret pacts with myself had I consented, just to excel. And now, after the hard work of learning, what must I unlearn. Also, I had been forced by the powerful presence of Lila to imagine myself as I was not. I was added to her, and I felt mutilated as soon as I removed myself. Not an idea, without Lila. Not a thought I trusted, without the support of her thoughts. Not an image. I had to accept myself outside of her. The gist was that. Accept that I was an average person. What should I do. Try again to write. Maybe I didn’t have the passion. I merely limited myself to carrying out a task. So don’t write anymore. Find some job. Or act the lady, as my mother said. Shut myself up in the family. Or turn everything upside down. Home. Children. Husband.”      Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Elena Ferrante

My Brilliant Friend book cover

 

I don’t often read books in translation, but when I visited Sicily this summer I decided to bring along a contemporary Italian writer. I chose Elena Ferrante and her trilogy of Neapolitan novels – a fourth novel will be published next year – not realizing what an incredible reading experience it would turn out to be.

Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym. The author of My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay does not grant in-person interviews. She does not do book signings or promotional tours. Even her translator, Ann Goldstein, has never met this international literary sensation.

There is a rumor that Elena Ferrante is a man, which many female readers find absurd. A myth, they say, spread by condescending males who think a woman wouldn’t write about male-female relations in the way that Ferrante does. I would be surprised and disappointed if Ferrante is ever revealed to be male. Certainly, such a thought never occurred to me as I read her novels. To me, she seems authentically female, though one who is remarkably uninhibited and self-revealing: a kind of brutal honesty born of the harsh, corrupt city where her novels are set.  It could be that professional anonymity gives Ferrante the freedom to write in this unfettered way. But I have the feeling that Ferrante’s strong, unusual voice would prevail regardless of her circumstances.

The Story of a New Name book coverThe Neapolitan novels span the 1950s to the present, depicting the fraught friendship of Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo, who live on a violent, poverty-stricken Naples stradone, and the fates of their neighborhood friends. Elena manages to become educated and lift herself out of poverty. She writes a bestselling novel, marries an esteemed professor of literature and “escapes” the old neighborhood. Lila, who Elena views as the more brilliant and talented of the two, is not permitted to attend school beyond the fifth grade. She fashions a very different kind of life that remains enmeshed in the corruption and conflict of Napoli.

The friendship between these two women is arresting, electrifying. Lila and Elena love each other but visit treachery and betrayal upon one another, too.  Lila takes the lead with bold, unconventional action; Elena reacts, making important life decisions almost in the wake of Lila. Elena senses Lila is the true, more talented writer, the one more deserving of success; she consciously crafts her own writer’s voice from a story Lila wrote as a child. No one knows Elena better than Lila, and vice versa. If one woman were to die, the other would lose her identity, and her life would be stripped of much of its meaning.

These novels remind me of the movie The Best of Youth in its depiction of an Italian family caught up in the cultural and political upheaval of the 1960s. Feminism is a strong theme, but as the decades pass, in these Neapolitan novels, men and women do not seem to make any progress understanding each other. Do you remember the vitriolic scene in The Godfather when Connie (Talia Shire) hurls the wedding china at her husband, Carlo (Gianni Russo) and they scream at each other? I thought of them when I read Ferrante’s riveting depiction of Lila’s wedding night. Returning from her honeymoon with a black eye, Lila visits her mother, who looks the other way, saying nothing. Such a thing was not out of the ordinary.

If you appreciate complex psychological portraits of women and female friendships, you will like these novels. I enjoyed them, too, for their depiction of Elena’s emotional and creative challenges as a writer, and because they helped me better understand the problematic history of women’s roles in Italian family and culture. The novels will resonate for anyone who has reinvented themselves through geographical distance or education or immersion in a different stratum of society.  We see Elena renouncing the rough dialect of Naples for cultured Italian, yet reverting to the aggressive language of her childhood when she’s angry or upset. Elena hovers between two identities: alienated from her people and place of origin, yet never really at home in her new life.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay book coverThis article in Slate is one of the better reviews I’ve read of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. There is an excellent discussion of Elena Ferrante by her translator Ann Goldstein and others in this New Yorker: Out Loud interview.

I plan on reading the fourth novel next year when it is published. Have you read any novels by Elena Ferrante? If so, what do you think?

 

 

The Stone Boudoir

The Stone Boudoir book cover

The Stone Boudoir, by Theresa Maggio.

 

My pictures. Her words.

 

Shrine

“I was on a mission: to find the smallest mountain towns in Sicily. Tiny jewels, remote and isolated, these are places tourists seldom see. But they are the island’s hidden treasure and the secret spring of Sicilian endurance.”

 

 

Two men walking

“Maybe I am so drawn to Sicily because I am half Sicilian and the island is hard-wired into my genes.”

 

 

Window with curtains

“‘I’m looking for a room,’ I said. ‘You have the face of a paesana, a countrywoman,’ she said. My grandparents’ gift to me, I thought. She was sure she recognized me from somewhere.”

 

 

Deep fried artichoke on a plate

“…there used to be a dark bottega that smelled of salami and strawberries….the owner once invented a panino, a little sandwich, just for me: pecorino cheese, pickled peppers, capers, and fresh tomatoes on fragrant yellow bread, chewy as steak and smeared with olive oil. He wouldn’t let me pay.”

 

 

Procession in church

“Men who pulled her all night touched their hankies to the saint. I stared at her back as she floated above our heads down the cathedral’s nave, slowly, like a Norman queen under the pointed Arab arches….She was glorious. An amazing silence fell in the half-filled church.”

 

 

Water in stone fountain

“These mountains make water,” he said.

 

 

Sea, beach, sky

“This island was deadly beautiful, very old, most powerful and strange.”

 

In Sicily

“I had found my island, and I wanted to stay forever.”  Theresa Maggio, Mattanza

Villa window

 

Mattanza book coverWhen I visit Sicily, I enjoy following in the footsteps of Theresa Maggio, author of Mattanza: The Ancient Sicilian Ritual of Bluefin Tuna Fishing and The Stone Boudoir: Travels through the Hidden Villages of Sicily.  

My family and I first travelled to Sicily 14 years ago, in part to re-connect with my father’s relatives. That was when I discovered Theresa’s splendid books.

Reading them again on our recent trip was like meeting up with an old friend. When I see Sicily through Theresa’s eyes, I see the island so vividly, with a more nuanced understanding of the complex people, culture, and history of this stunningly beautiful place.

We usually stay on the outskirts of Scopello, a small fishing village that is now a quiet, secluded haven for tourists. On this trip, we rented a villa halfway up a mountain on the edge of Zingaro Nature Reserve. Once the home of a tonnara (tuna factory), in years past Scopello celebrated the mattanza, the ritualized killing of bluefin tuna, every May and June. The mattanza was first practiced by the Arabs, or perhaps the Carthaginians before them.  The custom died out in the 1980s when industrial over-fishing made it obsolete.

 

Former tuna factory in Scopello

Scopello’s former tonnara, converted to tourist apartments

 

Theresa’s book is a love letter and an elegy to the mattanza and the people whose lives were intimately bound to it. During one of the last years of the mattanza, Theresa befriended the fishermen (tonnatori) on the island of Favignana and accompanied them on their boats as they watched and waited for the tuna to become trapped in their underwater chambers of ropes and nets. When several hundred tuna had been captured, the tonnaroti lured them from one chamber to the next, while chanting thanks and prayers to God, the Virgin Mary, the saints.

The bluefins’ final destination: the chamber of death.

“After a while huge black shapes rose up into the backlit square. Their slow rising was mystical, like a birth. They rose higher. Dorsal fins swirled, wild animals drawn up from a silent abyss.

They were giants, eight feet long, some bigger, and there were hundreds of them. The net was drawn taut and they skittered in front of us, half out of the water. I looked into their glassy black eyes. The fish were as big as men, some bigger than four men. When their tails slapped the water it rose in columns above our heads. I remember the din, the thunder of falling water, and their frantic thrashing. They darted to the corners of the net, but there was no way out.

The crowd went wild. People were soaked, screaming and cheering….The fish were churning the sea into a white froth, and then the froth turned pink.”

Rusted anchors

Tonnara anchors

 

At one time, these hand-made tuna traps were in Spain, France, Algeria, Tunisia, Turkey, Dalmatia and Corsica, as well as Italy; some sixty tonnaras dotted the Sicilian coast.

“Gone, all gone,” writes Theresa.

The old tonnara in Scopello is beautiful, but I didn’t like seeing it in the hands of tourists. In their heyday, the tonnaras employed, directly or indirectly, thousands of men and women; some even had child care centers on site. Theresa writes with great sadness of the tonnaroti who netted fewer and fewer tuna each year until they had to stop.

I don’t like a world where men and women who love working on or near the sea, who make their living by physical labor, can no longer do so because it is not profitable. I’ve never seen a mighty bluefin tuna, but I’d prefer to have our seas teeming with them.

Theresa Maggio is a compassionate and keenly intelligent traveler. Her passion for discerning the heart and soul of a people and a place will enrich your own explorations.

Scopello sunset

Scopello sunset

Sunset photo by A. Hallinan.

 

 

Books at my door

Books at my doorDelancey book cover

 

If you like food writing combined with memoir, you will like Molly Wizenberg and her latest, Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage. The restaurant is in Seattle. Her first book, A Homemade Life, is a bestseller.

Sicily book coverI bought Sicily: A Literary Guide for Travellers by Andrew and Suzanne Edwards for an upcoming trip – haven’t been there in seven years. Many of the greatest writers were drawn to this island.

Groundbreaking Food Gardens by Nikki Jabbour promises 73 plans that will change the way you grow your garden, such as: Slow Food Garden; Vintage Victory Garden; Edibles on a Patio; Heirloom Sampler; Formal Herb Garden; Eggs & Everything; and Living Walls.

Piazza, Carini

The piazza in Carini, Sicily, where my father was born

Family cookbooks that become heirlooms

I asked my brother, John, to contribute to my series on favorite family cookbooks. I’ve tasted some of the recipes from the cookbook below, prepared by John. Fabulous, unpretentious Sicilian cooking, the kind we grew up with.
The Sicilian Gentleman's Cookbook book coverI often consult The Sicilian Gentleman’s Cookbook [by Don Baratta] when I want to do some Sicilian cooking. I think cooking becomes very personal, because we all have different tastes. I remember my dad describing different ways to make tomato sauce.  His mom, my grandmother, liked to make simple sauce. You cook down the tomatoes, add spices and, of course, garlic and onion, and you’re done….simple. But my grandfather had to have his sauce strained. Absolutely forbidden to have seeds and skin involved.
To me, The Sicilian Gentleman’s Cookbook is simple cooking. Just the way I imagine peasants cooked in Sicily, because they didn’t have much. They made do with what was available. I usually pull down the book for a quick idea and I go with what we have. Simple. I suggest the artichoke hearts with pasta, which is a family favorite when we get together with friends for Valentine’s Day. I also like the fish stew/soup recipe. It’s really a remarkable meal.
When we were visiting at Thanksgiving, I was browsing through the cookbook and found the Sicilian gentleman’s secret to losing weight: have a bowl of homemade soup every night for dinner. Sounds like a great idea for the long, cold winter nights to come. A hot bowl of homemade soup with a slice of fresh bread and a glass of Malbec or Beaujolais Nouveau, then a good book in front of the fire.
Elizabeth David’s literature of cookery
Italian Food book cover
John’s story got me thinking about one of my favorite Italian cookbooks – Elizabeth David’s Italian Food.  The recipes are somewhat antiquated and difficult to re-create, because you can’t always find the proper, authentic ingredients, but they’re mouthwatering all the same. David, who was British, raises food writing to a high art. This is a book you could read and enjoy by a winter fire every evening, without ever making a recipe.
It was difficult to choose an excerpt, the writing is so good, but here are two of my favorites:
It is worth noting that in the dining-cars of trains, where the food is neither notably good nor to everyone’s taste, a dish of uova al burro may always be ordered instead of the set meal and will be brought rapidly and with perfect amiability by the dining-car waiter. So browbeating are the attendants in certain French and English railway dining cars over this question of ordering eggs or sandwiches instead of the dull, expensive, six-course meal provided that I have thought the matter worth mentioning.
She’s talking about a bygone era that sounds wonderful to me. Here is a link to the dining car menus on Amtrak’s long-distance trains – they even serve meals on Christmas Day.
Here is David’s description of a Venetian fish market:
The colours of the peaches, cherries, and apricots, packed in boxes lined with sugar-bag blue paper matching the blue canvas trousers worn by the men unloading the gondolas, are reflected in the rose-red mullet and the orange vongole and cannestrelle which have been prised out of their shells and heaped into baskets….In Venice even ordinary sole and ugly great skate are striped with delicate lilac lights, the sardines shine like newly-minted silver coins, pink Venetian scampi are fat and fresh, infinitely enticing in the early dawn.
I’d like to continue this family cookbook series, so send me the titles of your favorite family cookbooks and I’ll list them here. If you have a story or anecdote about a particular cookbook, please send it along.
Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior goes to….
Darlene Niman, who owns and operates Out With a Friend, a senior companion service in New York City. She says one of the best books she’s read recently is That Summer in Sicily by Marlena De Blasi.
Quotes from:
Italian Food, Elizabeth David, Penguin Books, New York: 1987.
The Sicilian Gentleman’s Cookbook, 3rd Revised Edition, Don Baratta, Firefly Books, Buffalo: 2002.

Children’s lit of my ancestry – Cuore: The Heart of a Boy

Coincidence or serendipity?

I was writing this post about my Sicilian cousin and his favorite children’s book in Wegmans when I heard the strumming of a mandolin. It was the theme song from The Godfather. Today, the cafe was featuring Italian folk songs along with Italian food.

Then, I heard someone speaking Italian. At a nearby table, a young girl was giving an Italian lesson to an older woman.

I’m not in Italy. I’m at a Wegmans in upstate New York.

But to get on with this post: My cousin Giuseppe, who lives in Carini, Sicily, recently graduated from the University of Palermo with a degree in translation. (Actually, he is my much younger cousin. His grandmother and my father were cousins, making him my third cousin, I think.) Giuseppe plans to further his studies in literary translation. Recently, he was the translator for Susan Vreeland when she was in Sicily speaking about her books and her passion for Italy.

Now that he’s finished his studies, Giuseppe had time for some literary discussion. He told me his favorite American writers are Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, and Stephen King. Currently, he’s reading E’ Stato il Figlio, (loosely translated, “It Was the Son”) a book about the Mafia by the Sicilian writer Roberto Alajmo.  Giuseppe calls Alajmo a “wizard” of a writer; the book was recently made into a movie.

When I asked Giuseppe if books had made a difference in his life, and if there was one in particular that was special to him, he said:

book cover: Cuore: The Heart of a Boy“I can’t imagine my room without my personal bookcase, or a world without books. One of the first books that I read when I was a child was Cuore: An Italian Schoolboy’s Journal, by Edmondo de Amicis, which left an indelible mark in my life. I believe this book must be read during childhood, with the sensibility and imagination of a child, when one can physically enter the story and share the characters’ feelings with one’s own heart.”

The books was written by de Amicis during the unification of Italy in 1866 and is one of the most famous books in Italian children’s literature. It has influenced generations of Italians and has also been widely read in East Asia (where it was published as “The Education of Love” in China) and Latin America.

Some modern-day readers may find it didactic and sentimental, but I’m fascinated to know more about books that my grandparents and great grandparents may have grown up with. I wonder if my father read Cuore. I wish I could ask him.

If you read reviews of Cuore on Amazon you’ll find that people have revisited this book later in life and have been as moved by it as when they were young, if not more so. The best children’s books resonate at any age.

Perhaps someday Giuseppe will return to Cuore with the full heart of an older man.

An English translation of the book (also known as Cuore: The Heart of a Boy), can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg. The translation leaves something to be desired and the format is difficult to read, but you might want to sample a few chapters, especially if you have Italian ancestry. Illustration from Cuore: Heart of a Boy(Or Latino or Asian)

Giuseppe told me that for his thesis he created a medical glossary of terms related to the heart in Italian, English, and French. He said he had no particular reason for choosing this topic. But I wonder.

Giuseppe Di Stefano is affiliated with the translation services website http://www.icanlocalize.com/site.

Are you familiar with books your parents or grandparents read as children? If so, tell us about them in the comments below.

Genetic kinship: Who are we and where do we come from?

In My Beautiful Genome, Lone Frank probes her past by having her DNA analyzed for genetic kinship.

State-of-the-art genetic testing can trace ancestry ten or eleven generations back, by looking at a man’s Y-chromosome DNA (which he inherits unchanged from his father) or the mitochondrial-DNA of a man or a women (which they inherit unchanged from their mother.)

Many people interested in genealogy are now supplementing their research with DNA testing of this kind.

Piazza in Carini, Sicily

Piazza in my father’s hometown, Carini, Sicily

As I read about Lone tracing her ancestry, I thought about trips to my father’s birthplace in Sicily I’ve taken with my family. My father was a baby when he crossed the Atlantic Ocean with my grandmother to Ellis Island. I heard the story many times growing up. My grandparents kept in touch with their relatives and returned to Sicily several times to visit.

Because they did, I’ve been able to travel to Carini to meet my father’s family, and my sons have had the opportunity to get to know their Sicilian cousins. That connection with the “old country” is continuing into the next generation, and I hope my children will keep it going with their children.

On our first trip, when we were exploring the cobblestone streets of Carini, we stopped in a bakery. There, we met a man who had my last name (my maiden name.) My family’s surname name is common in Carini.

That day our cousins took us to a nearby castle that had been built around 1075. In the evening we gathered for an elaborate, home-cooked meal at my father’s cousin’s villa in the old section of Carini. Like most Sicilian homes, it is walled off and gated. We sat at several picnic tables end-to-end next to a large, well-tended garden and talked late into the night.

I was steeped in antiquity but surrounded by modernity. Vespas and other traffic passed by outside the garden walls.  I felt a sense of completion. Here were my roots, or half of them, anyway. I looked at the faces of my family and thought about the fact that Sicily has been conquered repeatedly, by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Muslims, Normans, Spanish, and probably others. We have the blood of many races, and who knows what parts of the world our earliest ancestors came from.

I think people are looking for this sense of identity when they do genealogical research and probe their DNA for ancestry. We are, each of us, unique. Yet when it comes down to it, we all come from the same human family.

Have you had your DNA analyzed for ancestry? Are you considering it? If so and you’d like to share your thoughts and experiences, please do in the comments below.

Summer day meditation, week 4

water lily

I found this in the backyard pond this morning.

In meditation class, our instructor read a poem by Rumi about welcoming all emotions as you would a house guest, even the negative ones, as they may be clearing you out for something else.

Also a poem by Derek Walcott about loving again the stranger who was yourself, published in David Whyte’s book, The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America. For a time, David Whyte was a visiting poet at a major corporation. I’ve never read a book quite like it.

You can sample some of David Whyte’s poems on his beautiful, rich website. David leads groups on hiking tours in Italy, England, and Ireland, where he reads his poetry and visits artists, cooks, gardeners, farmers, and other creatives committed to their locales.

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