Monday, January 30, 2017

Twelve Days in Siracusa: The Bad and the Beautiful

Annamaria on Monday

The Beautiful

Beautiful is easy here.  It's everywhere you look.  Here's the evidence of that:

Castello Maniace, in the light of the setting sun
Sometimes it was the January weather.  But only sometimes

But when it was the weather, it was truly beautiful.

Everyday it was breakfast at the best cafe, perhaps in the universe.

Siracusa's youth gather to watch the sunset over their city's storied port.

One place, at first, seemed beautiful.  And the perfect location for me to write my novel, which begins in 1692.  I had rented an apartment, and unbeknownst to me, it was located in a 16th or 17th century palazzo--exactly the sort of place where the main character in my WIP would have lived.

Inside the street level door is the cortile, open to the sky.

Looking back to the street entrance.

That door in the yellow wall above the archway leads to the room where I slept.  I was delighted when I saw it; I had already imagined its exact dimensions and set an early scene in it.

I stayed for a week with visiting friends, but the apartment, though swanky, turned out to be too uncomfortable to bear once I was there alone.  Insufficient heating (the weather was remarkably cold for this part of the world) failed to warm the ancient stone walls, and I couldn't sit still and work, though dressed in several layers and wrapped in blankets.  I decamped to a hotel and arranged for an early return to Florence and to my own place--far less regal, but one hundred percent comfortable.

The Bad

Mid-Jauary this year had billions all over the world riveted (many in horror) on Washington DC.  We here in Italy certainly had that miserable business on our minds, but we were spellbound by a perfect storm of catastrophe.  The mood of these events brought me back to my early childhood, when a little girl in California fell into a well and everyone in my house was focused on radio reports of attempts to rescue her, and people in the streets talked of little else.

Starting on 16 January, a series of four strong earthquakes hit high in the Abruzzi, just about simultaneously with a blizzard of unheard of proportions, which dumped more than 15 feet (5 meters) of snow on the area.  Thousands were stuck in mangled houses without heat or light or phone service.  Then an avalanche buried a small hotel, trapping 30 or more people--families, the staff.  Rescue workers could not get  to them for more than a day. A few went in on skis, but the wind was too high at first to allow helicopters anywhere near the mountain. And cutting a road in was extremely slow, with a wall of the white stuff dwarfing a huge plow.  

 Machines that can quickly clear 15 feet of snow do not exist.

Cross-country skiing members of the Vigili del Fuoco reached the site.  This
 one is looking at the roof of a three-story building.

They dug out nine survivors, at first with their hands. including three children.
Twenty-three people died or are presumed dead.

The Bad and the Beautiful

In the Cathedral at Noto, we saw sculptures made from pieces of refugee boats that have washed up on Italian shores.

The brass plate at the bottom says, "Who will pray for those
who perished?"

 "The Wooden Cross" ordinarily refers to the cross of Christ.
 It breaks my heart that so many who call themselves Christians
 don't feel this in their hearts.

My cousin Anna Puglisi teaches in this public school for 14-19 year olds.  Please keep in mind that these kids opted to major in Science.

This year, for the second in row, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, they and their teachers turned their entire school into a Shoa Museum open over the weekend.  It was one of the most moving places I have ever been.

"Not To Be Forgotten"

In the classrooms along this corridor,were displays of visual arts, dance, and music.

This student made a replica of the little suitcase of a girl whose life and
movements she had researched.

These future scientists dedicated their room to portraying the evil experiments of Mengele, the angel of death.  

The students acted out the history, while the lad in the foreground
delivered an emotionally charged narration.

Photos of children robbed of their childhoods
Students had collected identity card photos and the biographies of lost children.  Several students gave first person accounts of the lives of child victims.  They did this one to one with visitors.  Impossible not to weep during their performances.

The students wrote their own lines, made the sets and costumes.  And they created and engineered videos. Many of the performances were remarkably intense.  I reiterate.  This is not a school of the arts.  And these are not children of privilege.  They are middle class and working class young people whose own hearts have been touched by what they learned and who have developed a passion for communicating these stories to their own community.

Beautiful indeed.


  1. In spite of the horror of history and nature, these pieces all have the beauty of humanity. Thank you.

    1. Piacere mio! My pleasure, Michael. There was supposed to be a little film--less than half a minute, in that big white space--of the excellent student musicians performing live music to slide shows of the Shoa in various countries. But Blogger or the hotel Wifi failed me. Those kids warmed and broke my heart.

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  3. A wonderful piece, as always, Annamaria! The apartment where you were staying looks beautiful but, as I know from staying in Tuscany over one winter, they are often more suited to summer living than in winter. I cannot write when I have lost all feeling in my fingers!

    What a remarkable display by the students. Sometimes, in a humanitarian crisis, we become overwhelmed by the sheer numbers involved. Concentrating it down onto one person's story is the perfect way to reawaken our empathy with their circumstances. Bravo to the students.

    1. Thank you , Zoe. Not being able to type with frozen fingers is exactly what drove
      me out of that palazzo and ultimately back to Florence. Word-count goals begin tomorrow. The part about the students wrote itself. I fell in love with those kids.

  4. That suitcase, by the student who researched the little girl's life, is so touching. What an incredible learning experience, grazie for sharing

    1. Thank you, Cara. As Zoe said, those kids had an incredible knack for personalizing with they were communicating and making it so powerful by doing so.

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  6. It's very beautiful and sad. The children are so sensitive.

    But I love the photos of Siracusa. This blog has sent me several times to read about that amazing city and look at more pictures of it.

    However, what you missed over here while in stunning Italy is quite something. Thousands all over the country demonstrating in solidarity with immigrants, with Muslims. Beautiful stories of solidarity.

    But the madness emanating out of the Oval Office continues. Incredible articles in the NY Times, Washington Post and New Yorker.

    How many more days until this term ends? I wish I were in Siracuse even in the cold. At least he who shall not be named is not there.

  7. Thank you, Kathy. I am so happy that you find Siracusa so intriguing. Yes, I have been away since well before the tweeter-in-chief took office But I am keeping track of what has been going on. I have been at those protests in spirit. He who must not be named is making a shambles of his first days in office. I hate that he is damaging our country's functioning and to a huge extent, its reputation. I have spent a great deal of time listening to people here complain and sometimes a rant in dismay over what some of them believe is a catastrophe foisted on the world by "the American people." I spend a lot of mental energy figuring out how to explain to them in Italian how the majority of the American people do not agree with the TIC. Italian here have also seen the people of America protesting, and I can tell you that all that I've spoken to find that comforting and are in support of the protesters. I keep explaining to people that this is an unprecedented situation, and that there is no constitutional process for moving away from the presidents actions quite yet. That there is a process for impeachment, and I believe that behind the scenes, a case is being prepared. I pray I'm right.

  8. From Siracusa, to Abruzzi, to Deutschland to WDC all cries out the same: "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it." As for warming you up, I'm advised by your personal shopper that your vest has landed.

  9. Thank you for your post. Thankfully, due to TV and the Internet, people around the globe can see the protests across the U.S. and the solidarity with immigrants and Muslims.

    And they can know that most people here do not agree with he who shall not be named and his Svengali sidekick and assorted crosnies. (Although the NY Times is calling the Svengali a de facto president due to his appointment to the National Security Council. They can declare wars!)

    Yes, I love those Siracusa photos and keep hoping I can hop on a magic carpet and be transported there -- whenever I see the news here.

    P.S. A friend who just wrote an article on the "global gag rule" against health care and family-planning organizations calls him "the Misogynist-in-Chief."