VERONA, ITALY: GIARDINO GIUSTI (PART TWO)

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A few weeks ago I introduced the Giardino Giusti and began to describe our visit there. It’s been just a few months since we left Italy, but it feels like ages right now. As I said before, the garden is simply incredible and the plants found there are all part of what I’d consider the traditional Italian garden. Maybe the photo collage is too small, but above on the far left you’ll see Acanthus mollis, some jasmine, and a hellebore with an Italian terra-cotta planter on a classical Roman-style pedestal. In the middle image you’ll notice the Italian cypresses flanking the perfectly painted Italian building. These trees are used to the extreme in this garden, oh, and that last pic on the far right, the boxwood! Oh, the boxwood! There’s architectural remnants too—but course.

Up the stairs in the lower garden there is an orangerie, although I cannot remember what to call it in Italian. Beyond it there’s an area dedicated to Brugmansia, but they were only just beginning to grow again after having been planted out. (I assume they’re protected over the winter.) Above this area, you can see a lovely structure which you’re able to walk up to in order the sit and enjoy the view below of the garden and town itself.

The flowers in this area were mostly Iris. The many citrus plants were blooming and the scent of their blooms was intoxicating. Along a wall, for the second time during an Italian vacation, I saw caper plants growing.

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Looking back towards the entrance to the garden, I noted this row of statuary lined up above a roof’s edge. My husband recognized the style of dress and the symbols each held and they essentially represent the classes. There’s nobility, military, clergy, and a peasant.  What’s missing is the piece that was up above the other 4. If I had to guess, it may have been religious, but I’m not certain. (My guess at the 4 statues representing the classes is a guess as well, but it’s and educated one.)

Protected in this area is the lovely Citron fruit. These lovely structures are so simple. The fruits were so happy and snug growing against their wall.

Sadly I cannot remember right now what this area had been, but I do remember the little pockets in the walls.

Before heading up the lovely path I had a lesson in Italian. I made the mistake of goofily pronouncing belvedere as we would in English, as I had learned as a kid from watching Mr. Belvedere. My husband lost it. When he lost it, I lost it cracking up at him. Then I had to laugh at how to correctly pronounce the word in Italian—bell-va-dare-aye. I felt so stylish. Of course this led to me talking about Signore Bell-va-dare-aye! It doesn’t take much for me to have fun, now does it? Turns out that to my husband “Belvedere” is somehow sacred. Yes, it means “viewpoint” if you hadn’t figured that out already.

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I guess when you have a view like this, you might want to take it seriously.

Next post, you’ll be seeing a bit more of it.

 

Verona, Italy: Giardino Giusti (Part One)

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After our photo storage debacle—and the loss of almost all of my images of the Giardini Botanici Hanbury—I was determined to go to another of Italy’s great gardens so as to provide at least one great series of photos on this blog. Little did I know that I would soon be seeing one of Italy’s greatest gardens, and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my life. IMG_1144

By this point in our trip I was not feeling well. My chronic health issues were causing a great deal of distress but I was determined to drive there. (I should add here that my husband doesn’t drive in Italy and cannot drive a manual shift car.) Luckily, we still had a FIAT Abarth, so getting to where we needed to go was not an issue.

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Note the heavy wood ceiling. Veneto is full of thick heavy wood. This is very different from many of the other regions of Italy. 

The garden is considered one of the finest examples of an Italian garden.IMG_1153 Created in the sixteenth-century, this is an Italian Renaissance garden. There are many styles of gardens in Europe—and I’m still far from an expert on this subject—but seeing this garden really inspired me to learn more. (I think my next trip will most certainly be a more in-depth exploration of great gardens.)

As a life-long tree hugger, I had to hug this “trunk of an old existing cypress in the garden in the fifteenth century.” It’s not quite a Californian redwood, but I was impressed and had nothing more than thoughts of the many people who’d been here before me.

The traditional plant palette of an Italian garden is quite limited and involves a lot of mass plantings of evergreen plants for an astonishing effect that simply must be seen in person.

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A Parthenocissus vine covers the wall and makes a fine green drape. 

Like any great garden, it transports you to another place, another level of existence, and it leaves you in awe. It also left me wanting to never leave. IMG_1159

For me, what started as a spiritual feeling left me that day with a sense of splendor and ecstatic sensation.

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If you look closely at the top of the hill you’ll see Il mascherone or a gargoyle. It is a man’s face and was originally designed to have flames coming out of his mouth. The entryway you see is an entrance to a grotto but sadly there is no more water inside. (You will see a photo of it in an upcoming post.) By the way, all the classical elements are represented in the garden. 

As I told my husband, any great garden should leave you with a feeling of hysteric pleasure—for some this might be a restrained thing, but for me, a girl raised on the Left Coast of the United States, I just wanted to party. (I will leave you with that without going into further detail.) IMG_1171

The garden is known for its terraces and its labyrinth. A traditional Italian garden is very green. This is in such sharp opposition to the usual colors of towns, and you’ll see this in upcoming images. IMG_1172It truly is a feast for your eyes and why not send your husband off into the labyrinth? I was fairly certain that Minos was still in Greece and that John would not encounter a minotaur here although I thought about it. That’s what these gardens were intended for, and so I let my mind be transported back to the ancient classical stories of Italy and Greece. (I should also add that all references to Catholicism have been removed. I will get to that in later posts as well.)IMG_1175It should come as no great surprise to you that food is important in Italy and all great Italian gardens will have citrus. The lemon is known to have arrived in Italy during the time of classical Rome.IMG_1177In the next two posts we’ll walk to the top of the garden. This is a garden seen in layers, with so many beautifully designed angles. Everywhere you look, you see beauty.

Our Garden Home After 1 Month Away

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It’s always nice to come home. Normally I would have freaked out at the mess in the garden and all the work I needed to do but one month in Italy has performed its magic. My Italian side still has nothing but positive, wonderful, and charming things to say about the place.

“Look at all that green? Where did that come from? It’s fantastic!”

“It looks like a lovely cabin in the woods. Who lives there? I do! What fun!”

And lastly, “Let’s straighten things up and have friends over. We must have something to celebrate, right?”

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Home Sweet Home.

From the plane I’d been able to see roughly where I’d grown up just outside of the city, and then I saw one of the few Italian family farms left in the area. Not too long ago there were so many more and all of the large Italian families in the city had one of their own.

All of this was quite emotional for me. In the space of a generation or two so many had disappeared as Italian-Americans were able to become so many more things because we do have that ability here, or at least we did. Now I’m not so sure about the American Dream, but I know for many of the immigrants in my family, it was real.

Having just returned from Italy were there are so many small farms, it made me sad—but proud too. Oregon is a great place and I am so happy to live here. It’s not always comfortable for me, but overall, after this last trip to Italy, I feel like both of my feet are firmly on the ground now. Funny I find myself wanting to sell produce or plants or even food more and more, but I know exactly where that impulse comes from and I am proud of it.

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Willamette Falls, Oregon City, Oregon.

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Rossi Farms on NE 122nd Avenue. One of the few Italian family farms left in the area.

After passing out for a few days I was able to get up the energy to walk through my garden to see how things were going.

So many of my favorite plants were blooming, and thanks to friends, all of the seedlings were doing great too.

The plane rides had been really hard on me and my swelling was very bad initially but it got better and eventually I saw my doctor and we discussed where I was at concerning my health but I will get to that in another post. I just wanted to emphasize, it really took me several days to get out and walk around and when I did it was quite painful.

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Rosa “Sombreuil”.

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Clematis “Jackmanii”.

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Unknown Dutch Iris.

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Unknown Dutch Iris.

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Rosa “Golden Showers”.

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Rosa rugosa.

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Billbergia nutans, Billbergia Bromeliad, Queen’s-Tears.

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Fave blooms.

The fava bean plants immediately excited me—even though I was in pain. As much as I’d loved being in Italy, I missed my kitchen and while there I’d wished I could have spent more time just hanging out in kitchens watching people cook. I have so much to learn and often feel like a pokey and useless creature but what comes out of my kitchen usually makes me proud. There was so much I didn’t see in one month. There were so many words I didn’t get to hear.

Back home I recommitted myself to cooking more difficult things and I’ve set out to learn more skills.

I also decided that my war on the edible garden is over now. My distaste for my former life is done and I’m ready to move on and I knew I badly need to do the garden renovation dance.

So, during the last week I’ve attacked the front yard with a great gusto, but I have a few big projects to get through before I can say the kitchen garden is up and running as it should be. I am renovating and clearing several areas at the same time with particular goals in mind. Yes, I want more food space, but I also need to dedicate my time and energy to plants which produce seeds I can sell. Maybe I can even get to some plant selection of my own in time. I hope so. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do.

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LuLu gained a little bit of weight while we were gone. I hate to call her neurotic, but she has her issues. Overeating nervously is one of them. 

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Maurice wanted us to know we were missed. Many stern looks were tossed our way between naps.

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Mona was happy to see me and couldn’t sit still. Even at her age she’s still Miss Wigglesworth.

The cats were happy to see us—as you can see. At first LuLu was in shock and hid from us but she continued to look at us with a pinch-me-is-this-real? look. After a few days we all settled in again. I think that’s in part due to the fact we had a great house sitter who really cared about the cats. Additionally, I think that we have 3 cats now who like one another. Mona getting along with LuLu has been a welcome surprise.

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Sweet souvenir: my new Bialetti.

We brought back a few things from Italy. Since we had to carry everything, I wasn’t feeling quite as generous as I wanted to be but my back survived.

My first gift to myself was this lovely little coffeemaker. Now I can make a quick shot of espresso just for me. Or, I could make one for you, the garden visitor. It works perfectly and makes a great cup of espresso.

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Not sure yet where we will hang this up.

The second gift to ourselves were these terra-cotta pieces for the back garden. We had to have St. Mark’s lion, and for me, well, something more historic.

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I mentioned LuLu is a bit neurotic, right?

That first week after we returned this is what always greeted me when I left the house or when I returned home. She melted my heart all over again. We immediately went on diets together too and I’ve been enforcing strict activity goals for her. Ok, maybe not that strict, but both of us have lost some weight.

Venice: You’re So Lovely You Broke the Camera

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Let’s just get to the point. Not long after arriving in Venezia my iPhone went a bit nuts and ended up imploding which led to a photo dump. (I suspect it was from taking videos and far too many photo. The phone really seems to hate the videos most of all.) I’d thought the photos would be saved on the iPad we brought, but well, I was wrong. The photos will be missed, but the greatest regret is that I won’t be able to post images from our visit to the Giardini Botanici Hanbury near Ventimiglia, Italy. Much planning went into that day trip, and the photos somehow made it all worth the effort. We awoke early, took the train from Genova to Ventimiglia, bought our bus tickets, waited for the bus, and then we experienced the best of the Italian Riviera for the rest of the day. While waiting at the bus stop after our garden visit, we met a British couple who’d walked there from the French town just over the border and were taking the train back to their hotel that night, while we were leaving from the same station to return to our apartment. While chatting, a woman in a car that had exited a garage across the street asked if we needed a ride back into town. Turns out a Hanbury family member is still there—although the garden is now part of the University of Genova. She was a wonderful guide during our short ride and once again I am reminded that true plant people are a small lot of people and we love crossing paths with other plant people. 

Well, rather than cry over spilled milk, I’ll move on to the next course. 

I Giardini Reali (The Royal Gardens) as seen from one of the restored rooms in the former Royal Palace, now part of the Museo Correr.

 

During our last trip here we’d stumbled upon this little patch of green near the water at St. Mark’s Square and it immediately reminded me of Paris. Turns out that Napoleaon had his hand in the development of this spot while in power here and while he lived in the Royal Palace. Only a few of the rooms remain, but from this window, it’s clear to see how the garden must have served its purpose. 

Our apartment door is to the right. This is our little deadend street at night.

  

We’re staying near the Rialto Bridge just steps away from the Rialto Market. This is what the view can be like just walking to the supermarket in the evening.

   
Italians feel much differently about plants and gardening than many other cultures and I am not going to begin a big discussion on the matter other than to back them up. I hear time and again the remark that things could look better if they just tidied things up but then this wouldn’t be Italy and its people would no longer be the quirky Italians that foreigners so admire.

Balconies full of wild messy ivy are quite commonplace all over Italy—especially so in Vencie. With low light coming in between the buildings in the narrow canals and streets it makes sense and is very low maintenance. 

The other common combination you’ll see up higher on rooftop terraces will be something along these lines: screen plants (optional), tomato plants (not optional), marigolds or calendula, geraniums, herbs, maybe a rose or jasmine vine if their rooftop has something for it to climb on, agave (optional), other foliage plants (optional).

They really do keep it simple around here.

“Here on the night of November 26, 1944 Amerigo Perini died by a fascist bullet hastening the hour of liberation of Italy from tyranny both inside and out.”

In addition to being used as an herb, bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) is still used culturally to connote victory just as it has for many centuries. Memorial signs such as this are given large frames or wreaths covered in laurel leaves, and newly graduated college students still walk the streets of Venice this time of year wearing their laurel crowns and singing together. It is nice to see plant symbolism and tradition at work.  Since I am ever the traveler wandering about while managing my own chronic health problems, it is nice to see such fine seats.  Seeing these near La Fenice made me realize I really should get some portable comfortable furniture for the garden this summer. I think that our elderly cat will approve of the idea too.  Piazza San Marco has nothing to do with gardening, and there are no plants, but it is magnificent in its design. This trip we visited the interior of the church and the mosaic work was truly stunning. When I return home, I want to begin making mosaics again. 

  

This is the view from the roof of St. Mark’s Basilica. 

  There are museums and art all over the city. Since Medusa is one of my favorite mytholical creatures, I snapped a photo of her on Athena’s aegis. This is from a sculpture that’s a Roman copy of a Greek original.   Ceramics are also a favorite and this dish depicts one of my favorite stories from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Cannot remember the date, but this is likely from the Renaissance.
  Yet another view from the top of St. Mark’s Basilica looking out toward the lagoon with the Doge’s Palace on the left.  The classical Venetian interior has a lot of dark, heavy wood. I doubt that was done to showcase fine Murano glass chandeliers, but it sure does work don’t you think? This museum room contained an incredible historic library with books on exploration. 

  This wouldn’t be Italy, and I wouldn’t be an Italian-American, if I didn’t share a basket of fake fruit with you. John and I both laughed when we saw it. We had to admit this one was quite stylish.  The cafes in Piazza San Marco are well known and can be a lot of fun if you’re there when the crowds are too much. We picked Caffè Florian since it was founded in 1720. For the price you pay to remain in the square to relax, it was worth it with this atmosphere. Outside our window the musicians played and we watched people walk by us.    The details in Italy are what boggle my mind and fill my heart with smiles. This incredible concrete work filled my imagination and simultaneously made me hungry. Not everyone has that reaction to tentacles, but I do. 

  This little patio is around the corner from our apartment.
  Some of my favorite spots in Venice are passageways such as this one. It too is nearby. From the kitchen porch we have a nice few of the bell tower. 
   But I must see the plants as I wander the streets. Wisteria is in bloom everywhere. It’s a very popular ornamental plant in Italy. I think their buildings are strong enough to maintain these floral beasts. 
  Everywhere you will find Sedum. This is by far the most common plant. I’ve yet to see it for sale so it must be passed along from balcony to balcony.   
   As you walk you find more and more of the usual low-maintenance suspects. Since there are so few plants here, when you do see them, their impact is strongly felt. 
   
  Then you find the little collections of potted plants and you know a gardener lives there. This little collection (in both pictures) was being cared for by an old man.   Leaving to pick up a rental car other morning I saw these boxes and thought it was strange I hadn’t seen a Dwarf Alberta spruce in several weeks. 
We also noticed this on a building. Reminds me a bit of Napoleon’s bee, but I’m not sure if this building was connected to him. He did loot the place and rearranged a few things before passing it along to the next ruler. So glad Venice is free now.   Last time we were here I really wanted to get something for the garden. This time, I am returning to this shop to pick up a few pieces. 
 Wish I could get a matching earring a necklace combo while we’re here but I can’t afford them—maybe next time. Being able to stay in Italy for a month was really the greatest treasure I get to take home. 

More from Veneto soon! 

Sicily: Part One (Termini Imerese)

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This is Termini Imerese in the province of Palermo, Sicily. It’s the hometown of my great-grandparents Frank and Rosaria Amato. It’s also the town my great-great grandfather Salvatore Amato decided to return to in order to live out his final years after he’d brought all of his sons here to Portland, OR to help them start new lives.

The view from the Falcone-Borsellino Airport which was named after two anti-mafia judges who were murdered on their way into Palermo in 1992.
Since childhood, I’ve longed to return here. Back then I heard stories about Termini from other relatives who’d returned to visit family. I knew I would too, but I’d never imagined it would take this long.
Grandma Rosaria posing at the door to her tiny kitchen empire in SE Portland. She was considered one of the best cooks in the family and time spent at her table was a gift.
I’d heard about it from my great-grandma too. If only she could have seen me there! Just thinking about it truly brings tears to my eyes. I flew through the streets of her tiny hometown in our rental car. I think she would have smiled her wide smile and laughed a bit.
Then she would have asked if I would be a good Italian girl now.
Our dear rental car. I recommend the 4-door Fiat. Fun car to drive—especially through narrow twisting streets at high speeds. (Oh how I miss those olive trees!)
As soon as we arrived for our 5 days in Sicily we picked up our rental car and drove to the agricultural area just east of Termini on the opposite side of Monte San Calogero. (More on that below.) It was our home base for this part of our trip.
Not sure if this kind of decorative chain would work in the US. I see lawsuit written all over this one.
Visiting the cemeteries while in Italy is a must—especially if it’s your “home turf”.
Since many of my family members came here to Portland, Oregon generations ago, I didn’t find many Amato family members, but next time I’ll make the necessary connections.
It’s a complicated affair. Sicilian culture and family life is not for the meek, mild or wildly independent. You can’t really be part Sicilian because you must dedicate yourself to the lifestyle with gusto and a loyal heart.
For me, this was simply the trip where I went from dipping my toe into the pool to stepping down onto the first and second steps. (Honestly, I was way too emotional to meet relatives.)
Next time I’ll dive. This trip was really just to scout it out. As you’ll see, I very much enjoyed myself.
What a lush Crassula!

The cemetery is Termini Imerese was alive with plants and many people were there visiting gravesites.

Although the island bakes in the summer sun—with scorching sirocco winds from time to time—there are a few tall evergreens in places. (I always look for tall trees.) Overall, the inner island was much greener than I’d expected it to be but it was logged long ago by the Greeks and Romans. It was fun to try and imagine what the original island must have been like botanically but since humans have been living there for so long it’s impossible to know.

Sicily is rustic. It is full of folk traditions and simplicity. There are no false pretenses. Everything central to the society and important is hidden, and yet much of life is lived out in the open. Sicily is elaborate and ornate, and yet it is gut wrenchingly brutally honest.

Much more is spoken with the eyes and the body than the mouth. That is Sicilian. That’s why the island is advertised as “being for poets”. It truly is a magical and unique place.

Not sure what this succulent was, but it caught my eye. (I’d love to grow one here at home.)

The whole cemetery was full of amazing plants, planters, and cut flowers. There were so many unique variations on the same theme.

Then there was this guy.

In his left hand he’s holding a pack of cigarettes. I was a bit shocked he wasn’t holding coffee in the right hand, but instead, it’s eternally posed in such a way as to have a flower inserted into it.

I’m sure that his conversation with God is always an interesting one. Sicily is dramatic.

This sculpture was my favorite. In addition to the woman’s facial expression—which is uniquely Sicilian and deadpan to me—she is admiring the agricultural products still harvested on the island.

She appears almost uniquely longing for the life of the harvest but is unable to reach it any more. This was really touching to me.

From the top of the hill in town it was truly a vista looking east towards Monte San Calogero.

Just a few paces from there we reached a park where many residents promenade.

I was of course fond of this broken down concrete baby greeting us at its gates.

I cannot recall the name of this tree but I’ve seen it before in San Diego, CA. Its orange flowers looked lovely against the shades of terra cotta paint and clear sapphire blue sky.

Down below was the older part of town. There is a park there and a square with a gelateria. It’s the park I’d seen in postcards depicted in black and white. It’s where my Grandma Rosaria had celebrated many festivals as a girl.

Of course we went there several times for gelato and while walking and eating I noticed this sweet act of Sicilian plant kindness.

It would have been fun to take more photos of private gardens but in Sicily I didn’t like to take many photos without permission.

Trust me, if you’ve been there and you care and respect the people, you’ll know exactly what I mean. You just don’t walk around taking lots of pictures. It makes you stand out and that’s the last thing you want to do.

For many generations my male family members were greengrocers and I very much wanted to see how that had come to pass. During this trip, the greatest joy was seeing the trade still fully functioning in a modern world.

Leaving Termini this is what you see if you head east and up the valley where we were staying. In the distance, many small truck farmer plots can be seen. For generations this is how farming has worked in this part of Sicily. I’ve read accounts of this kind of agriculture in other parts of Italy too, but it’s not as common nowadays.

The most difficult part was that it is still a job and a lifestyle for men. In Sicily there is still a very wide gender divide and women only tend to small planters and garden plots attached to their own homes.

I should add that you don’t see many women at all. There are some working, but there are many you don’t see because they’re at home. Even those who are working, are often behind the scenes, unseen.

The mother where we stayed did all of the cooking, yet she remained hidden the whole time we stayed there. I caught a glance of her one evening, but she saw me and went back inside of her room.

This was a familiar arrangement to me, but I can’t deny how torn it made me feel. On the other hand, it helped me to better understand my own family.

The view of Monte San Calogero from our room was breathtaking. The scent of the artichoke farms in the morning is something I’ll never forget. This place was already imprinted on me but being there fleshed it all out for me. I have never felt so at home.

Just for contrast, this is a town in the interior of Sicily. I stopped to take this photo on our way from an ancient Roman villa to see Greek temples in Agrigento.

I know many people love Tuscany, but I’m Sicilian and I’ll never stop loving the light, the colors, the sounds, the tastes, and the silence of the people of Sicily. It’s in my blood. It’s an even larger part of me than I’d known until I visited there.

Yes, Sicily gave Italy cannolo(i), gelato(i), and sorbetto(i) too. Don’t believe me? Look it up! For this reason alone I’ll take Sicily over the rest of Italy. It’s such a rich place culturally and it’s so unlike any other place in the world.

It may have been invaded many times, and it’s been ruled by many people, but that’s what makes it so unique. My own DNA shows signs of the island’s rich genetic and cultural history. Where else do you find Greek, Italian, Middle Eastern, North African, Spanish, and French influences blended together? Nowhere else!

Each night we returned to our room at the farm.

Our room was at one end, and at the other, some young Sicilian men returned each evening from working somewhere in the area on the artichoke harvest.

Normally you’d say ‘Hi’ or acknowledge another with a nod. Because I’m a married woman, for several days they pretended not to see me. It felt strange, but I knew the game.

One day the obvious leader of the group said ‘Hi’ to me very nervously in English. I was sitting in a common area near where we all ate. It was the only spot in the place with Wifi and I was alone. It was obvious he didn’t know much more English than that so he then laughed nervously and hurried off.

After that, a few others in the group cast me sideways glances, but out of respect, they never said anything more. By the time our visit was ending, I felt very safe around them. That’s how Sicily works. It’s all about trust and respect. They respected me, and it led me to trust them more. This means everything to a Sicilian and I enjoyed the interaction immensely.

We also went to Cefalù and saw what sanitized and safe tourist-friendly Sicily looks like and I loved it there as well. The intensity of personal interactions was lessened dramatically and we walked around freely without the eyes of the people upon us. (We also had a lovely married couple comedy routine in Italian with a local cheesemonger while we were there. John and I made the young man crack up and I felt like we were really fitting in just fine.)

I was also able to take this photo of a produce vendor. The old donkey carts my family used have been replaced with these little trucks. As you drive around the Palermo area you see them everywhere. They have the freshest produce in them and they get to market quickly. They simply pull up to the street, park and vend.

And of course that little truck had fresh local artichokes! So glad we ate them in a zillion dishes at the Agriturismo La Targa Florio.

Oh the fresh artichokes of Sicily!

I won’t soon forget you and your sister the mythical ancient pistachio of Bronte.

To be continued…

Wordless Wednesday: Green Peeks from Sicily, Italy (Sicilia, Italia)

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Tassel Hyacinth aka Muscari comosa or Leopoldia comosa. (Photo taken at Villa Romana del Casale.)
Possibly date palm—let me know if you can identify it. (Photo taken at Villa Romana del Casale.)
One of many Cercis siliquastrum seen blooming in Sicily in April. (Photo taken in the Valle dei Templi in Agrigento at the garden wall of Alexander Hardcastle’s home.)
Lovely Bougainvillea.  (Photo taken in the Valle dei Templi in Agrigento at Alexander Hardcastle’s home.)
Please don’t prune your Asparagus to look like this. (Photo taken in the Valle dei Templi in Agrigento at Alexander Hardcastle’s home.)
Unknown tree. (Photo taken at the cimitero in Termini Imerese.)
More palm trees and lovely handmade pebble paving from the streets of Termini Imerese. (This was the home of my great-grandparents.)
Trees in the city park in Termini Imerese.
Lovely large Lantana along the street in Termini Imerese.
Caster bean (Ricinus communis) plants grow wild along the roads in Sicily.
Artichokes (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) growing along the road.)
Borage (Borago officinalis) growing wild along the side of the road in Sicily.
Wild Sedum growing along the roadside near Termini Imerese.
Wild snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) growing in its native environs. My husband told me that in Italian they’re called  “mouth of the lion”. He played a lot with these flowers as a boy.
Not exactly sure of the plant, but I do recognize Sicilian ingenuity. If Dad gardened, this is how he’d stake his plants.
Convolvulus tricolor growing wild in Sicily.

Merry Christmas

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Hope you had a lovely holiday full of laughter and love. We filled the house with food and friends and feasted on The Feast of Seven Fishes. I’m ashamed I didn’t take more photos, but I can assure you I was busy for several hours and nothing was left on a single plate. It was delicious.
These are a few of our handmade spinach ravioli with Dungeness crab filling. This was a huge win for us because we’d never made them.
After the guests had departed I received my presents. The first was the book above. We’re planning a trip to Italy in 2014 so I need to get my green hat on again soon. This book will help me. I’ve never been, and John is taking me to see places from his childhood. He wanted to take me to Sicily too, but I’d rather see friends, so we’re thinking about alternatives. I’m excited, but traveling is always hard on my body so I have a lot of planning and special physical therapy exercises in store for me.

My second gift was this pearl necklace. No one has ever given me anything like this before and it means a lot to me. I can only afford the basics within my budget so this is a true gift. I feel a bit grown up wearing it. Last night I wanted to fall asleep with it on. I felt like a little girl playing dress up and that made me happy for some funny reason.

I’m pretty sure I’m not allowed to garden with it on, but the thought did cross my mind.
I am getting John a kitten. This is crazy since we already have 3 cats, but it is what he wants. (More on that new arrival soon. We are being very careful with our choice.)
So, the future looks bright and my garden is waking up and I’m looking forward to revising it in the coming months. There will be more shared meals and laughter in this house. I hope to meet new people and have more creative energy and ideas. Best of all, I want to continue to help people and share my thoughts about what I’ve learned through managing my own chronic illness. I’ve built up more and more strength and I am ready now. It was rough to revisit where I was in my life but I’m truly supported and encouraged now by those around me.
The only immediate issue I currently have is about continuing my education. Part of me wants to study again, but I will need more strength and endurance. What to study? Horticulture, garden design, writing? I don’t know, but I’m open to developing my potential again. I want to dig in, get involved, and become more of the professional I know I am.
With that, I must bid you all adieu!
Merry Christmas!
(More from the garden soon!)