Shop local for Christmas

Corner Bookstore

shelf-sacrifice n: to selflessly give away a book from one’s personal library for another person’s benefit – Powell’s Compendium of Readerly Terms

In our village on the Erie Canal, we have a number of small nonprofit businesses run by volunteers, including a craft shop, a second-hand tool thrift store, and The Corner Bookstore with used and collectible books. All donate their profits to good causes. The bookstore proceeds support programs at our public library.

I love shopping at these small businesses. (The tool shop not as much, but we did buy an old-fashioned push lawn mower there. When my brother-in-law visited us a few years back, we lost him for a couple of hours, only to find him browsing in the tool shop.)

A number of clothing consignment shops are scattered around our village as well. I’ve been thinking about challenging myself this year to buy exclusively (or almost) from stores I can walk or bike to. Our farmer’s market runs from May to November, so it wouldn’t be difficult to purchase a good portion of our fruits and vegetables there, supplemented by our small backyard garden. (Our town has a community garden, too.)

Shelf-sacrifice is what The Corner Bookstore is all about. It’s an elfin wonderland of used and vintage books lovingly displayed in diminutive groupings: children’s books, poetry, graphic novels, history, fiction, local authors, and more.

Vintage Children's Books

The cookbook section has used cookbooks nestled in gift baskets along with vintage ice cream sundae glasses, martini glasses, and miniature ceramic casserole dishes. I found a blank recipe album with Bible verses and beautiful cover art in pristine condition. For my son, I found a Vietnamese cookbook – he loves Asian food.

Cookbooks

In the local authors bookcase, I spotted Reunion in Sicily by Jerre Mangione, a scholar of the Sicilian-American experience, according to Wikipedia. Jerre is the uncle of jazz musicians Chuck and Gap Mangione, who are from Rochester. Flipping through the pages of the book, which was published in 1950, I saw that the author visited Sicily in 1936 when Mussolini and the Fascists were in power. Mangione was watched closely by the police and interrogated more than once as to the purpose of his visit.

Reunion in Sicily

Mangione was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship after WWII so he could return to Sicily to learn more about Italian politics and culture of the times. Reunion in Sicily is not listed in his Wikipedia entry; I’m interested to see what I can learn from the book. My father was Sicilian-American and a WWII veteran with extended family in the Old Country. The war, of course, essentially split Italian and Italian-American families in two, at least for a time.

Another great find was The Fragrant Garden, a beautifully slipcased anthology of garden writing and art, the kind of book you can display open on a small easel. When I noticed the subtitle, Penhaligon’s Scented Treasury of Verse and Prose, I realized that a faint floral scent emanated from its pages. Upon reading the prologue I discovered that, indeed, the endpapers are scented with Penhaligon’s Gardenia perfume. Gardenia is one of my all-time favorite floral scents; I had a gardenia in my bridal bouquet.

Fragrant Garden.jpg

The volume was edited by Sheila Pickles (check out her Goodreads Page) and published in 1992. Never having heard of Penhaligon’s, I had to look that up, too. It was established in London in the late 1800s. There are shops in the US, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to visit the London shop? They have a blog, and here is an enticingly sensuous excerpt from it about the men’s perfume Endymion:

“….a complex blend of sophisticated scents, it opens with the orangy warmth of bergamot and mandarin wrapped in delicate lavender and sage. The dark coffee heart is rich and powerful giving way to the spicy velvet base of creamy nutmeg, vetiver, cardamom and a hint of leather. It is strong and romantic and very masculine.”

I’ve never heard of vetiver, have you? I had to look that up, too.

Wasn’t that fun? All this from a Christmas shopping trip to The Corner Bookstore.

Christmas lights.jpg

Don’t overlook the independent bookstores and shops near you as you go about your holiday shopping. It’s a good way to support your local economy, and you’re much more likely to find unique gifts and treasures.

Do you have any independent bookstores that you like in your town?

Library window with Erie Canal mural

Our public library on the Erie Canal was recently renovated. Since 1938, it has boasted this mural by Carl W. Peters, created as part of Rochester’s WPA Murals project.

Lift Bridge

Our one-of-a-kind lift bridge spans the Erie Canal. It is an irregular decagon (10 sides), no two angles in the bridge are the same and no corners on the bridge are square. It is lifted by a 40 hp electric motor. When the kids were little they loved watching the bridge being lifted so boats could pass through.

 

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.

 

 

Love on a Plate

“When I’m on the road in Sicily I eat street food. It’s cheap, it’s good, and it’s a way to watch Sicilians. Street food feeds a need in them much deeper than hunger – their need to be close. Sicilians telephone each other from the back of the bus to the front, and seek out the crowded beaches, the piazzas packed with people, and markets where they’re likely to get mauled. They must have company, or at least an audience, for whatever they do. In Sicily, where food is love and the street is a stage, street food is more than a cheap meal, it’s Communion.”   “Love on a Plate” from The Stone Boudoir by Theresa Maggio

Fritters made from chickpea flour

Filomena’s panelle di ceci

 

We’ve been in Sicily visiting family and I couldn’t wait to post something about our trip.

I decided to begin with Filomena’s wonderful panelle, made from chickpea flour, which she prepared for us and we enjoyed one night after our cousin and friends took us sightseeing in Terrasini. We drizzled the fritters with lemon juice and ate them in sandwiches made from thick, soft rolls.

Theresa writes that in Sicily you can buy bags of small, crisp panelle squares, which are great with beer.

During our stay I read once again Theresa Maggio’s lovely The Stone Boudoir: Travels through the Hidden Villages of Sicily, an old favorite. No one captures the poetry and romance of the island quite like Theresa, whose grandmother is from Sicily. More about her writing, and about Sicily, in my next post.

I agree with Theresa. Food is love.

 

 

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.

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