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  • Writer's pictureMarie Ohanesian Nardin

Good morning. Summer is a day away!

And I recently received a small sample of hand painted tiles I ordered from Caltagirone in Sicily. I'm considering them for the entry staircase or other areas of our home in Sambuca di Sicilia. I'm excited to say that the restoration project is moving forward, and we will be taking a trip there soon to move it even further on.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a photo of the tiles below, which I am head-over-heels excited about, and a lovely article written by Susanna La Valle; shared with me by a Sambucesi friend and neighbor this morning. Both the article and the tiles hold the essence I feel when in Sicily and in the Quartiere Saraceno, the neighborhood where our home sits.

Leave me a comment with your thoughts on the tiles! And pay particular attention to the Di Giovanna winery mentioned in La Valle's article. This aspiring sommelier is especially fond of their Helios - DOC 100% Grillo, and hope to squeeze in a visit to their cantina during my next stay.

The translation is by me, and the original in Italian, along with lovely photos, can be found by clicking on "Balarm" below.

Buona lettura!

Published in Balarm

By Susanna La Valle 20 giugno 2023

Translation by Marie Ohanesian Nardin

author, and homeowner in the Quartiere Saraceno

“Saracen alleys, majolica stairs and playing cards: you are in the village "at the gates of Paradise" Among decorated walls, cobbled streets with painted doors and (decorative) large snails. This time, we’re taking you to what was once the fortress of the Emir Al Zabut”

It's a new day in Sambuca, once again here at the "village of villages of 2016". I go up the causeway again in direction of the Matrix. I pass an arch and enter a series of alleys, with names in Italian and Arabic, I am in the Saraceno district.

I left the baroque churches, the sandstone buildings and I find myself in courtyards and alleys, from a door decorated with a playing card: a King of hearts with the inscription lu Re d’Aremi ogni capricciu po' soddisfari…the King of Aremi every whim a little satisfied, a couple comes out, their accent Nordic, and he shows me the way to reach the Belvedere.

Intrigued, I notice the writings and names placed on the houses, many of them are foreigners.

Following the indications passed the Casa del limone, the Case ai Sette Vicoli, and a two-story house with an entirely majolica staircase where each step is different from the other, I pass decorated walls, through cobbled stone streets with more painted doors, more large snails, up to a small square where two angels are kissing on the wall.

I am in a state of relaxation, without any hurry I let myself be carried up to the Belvedere. I am in what was once the fortress of the Emir Al Zabut, where the Cathedral is now located: the Matrix.

I have a new guide, Salvatore, whom I meet inside the church. He watches me wander around a little confused, but then with courtesy and kindness he invites me to sit down, and in the mystical darkness he tells me about the Church.

The story starts from the Baldi Centellis Marchesi di Sambuca family. The sisters Giulia and Maria financed the construction of the church built on top of a previous one from the 1400s, using the base of the ancient castle.

Salvatore says that an underground walkway starts from the fortress and leads directly to the Saraceno district under the "Via del Fantasma", where it is said there are strange presences. This route allowed the Emir to quickly reach the Arab quarter.

The Matrix is ​​divided into three naves, the bell tower is extraordinary, probably the ancient Saracen tower, with polychrome ceramics and a spire resting on acanthus leaves.

The Church was damaged by the Belice earthquake in 1968 and returned to worship after more than fifty years, even though its restoration has not yet been completed. I talk to Salvatore about the Arab domination that lasted 400 years, about the beauty of the Belvedere, where the view extends over the Sicani Mountains to Caltabellotta and Giuliana. I have a question, why snails?

He replies, «here we go slow without haste, taking time is never wasted time. Then, in Sambuca snails are a delicious dish». For many the Sambucesi are called the babbaluciari.

I ask about the prominent Navarra family and the cultural ferment experienced in the 19th century, with Emanuele Navarro della Miraglia, a great friend of Dumas and a verismo author, «there were indeed great intellectuals here», and he shows me where to find the house.

The conversation then inevitably comes to the houses sold for 1 euro: «There were 15 houses in all, but this became an important promotional launch, in Sambuca there are now many Americans, Jordanians, Arabs and even Indians».

Before leaving, he gave me another piece of advice: «Don't overlook another excellence: wine. Sambuca is in the golden triangle of Sicilian viticulture, here the wine has unique aromas».

I follow the invitation and contact a producer, Gunther di Giovanna of the homonymous cellar. Its wines tell of a production born in the wake of a family tradition linked to the cultivation of grapes since 1860.

In the beginning, the grapes were given to the "Sette Soli" winery in Menfi and then from 2003/04 they began their production, from autochthonous wines such as Catarratto, and international wines such as Chardonnay. The whole family is involved in the company, even the parents born in 1936 and 1940 who continue to work: «their advice always heralds good things».

I ask about the name Gunther, he replies that his mother is German, his is an international family, his wife is from Philadelphia, with great experience in the wine sector having worked for a large importer.

This cosmopolitan characteristic has determined the decision to expand to the foreign market, their approximately 250,000 bottles reach numerous international markets.

The Di Giovanna vineyards extend between two territories: Sambuca and Contessa Entellina, a small distance but one which gives the wines profound differences.

«In Sambuca with the presence of the mountains, calcareous soils and organic substances from the woods, the wine is different from the calcareous and tuffaceous soils of Contessa, after all the wine is a Liquid Postcard, it describes a territory more than any other product».

I ask what Sicilian wines lack to become leaders abroad, he replies: «Unified promotion and marketing strategies, such as the large companies of Etna have put into practice. The ability to represent the island through 5,6 zones is lacking».

This producer in love with his land, with a degree in Industrial Relations, quotes Machiavelli: «We are responsible for 50% of our destiny, the other is chance», adding the words of Professor Mannino - his teacher at the Liceo Classico di Sciacca - «if you have good cards, sit at the table where the game is strong, because you have a good chance, if your cards are scarce, find a different table, you will lose at most a caramel».

At this point I ask what his cards are: «I'm German, a Norman, but I'm also Sicilian, I have special cards».

"The Normans - he adds - were unable to resist the charm of the island, here they were not dominators, but donors".

I say goodbye to Di Giovanna and leave Sambuca thinking back to the words of a poet from Sambuca: «…it is located at the gates of Paradise, framed by a bright sky that rejoices the heart and soul as well, radiating bundles of serenity».

The journey continues.

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  • Writer's pictureMarie Ohanesian Nardin

Thanks to Vita Sackville-West a special rose flourishes in my garden.

Souvenir du Docteur Jamain

Originally bred by François Lacharme - France, 1865

Much can be said about the pros and cons of social networks, but because of them I discovered something very interesting about a certain breed of roses we planted in our garden 15 years ago. Chosen from our

landscaper's/gardener's collection because of its soft, old rose scent and deep velvety color, he nor I knew its proper name. Then, just a few days ago and right before this first bloom of 2023 blossomed, an interesting post about this very rose was made on a FB "rose group" a dear friend very recently invited me to join.

I made further inquires there and elsewhere, and it seems this breed that continues to bring grace to my garden and to many other gardens around the globe can be solely attributed to the work of Vita Sackville-West, English author and garden designer, which she began when renovating Sissinghurst Castle and Gardens, Kent U.K., in the 1930s:

"Souvenir du Docteur Jamain is an old fashioned hybrid perpetual which I am rather proud of having rescued from extinction. I found him growing against the office wall of an old nursery. No one knew what he was; no one seemed to care; no one knew his name; no one had troubled to propagate him. Could I dig him up I asked? Well, if you like to risk it, they said, shrugging their shoulders; it’s a very old plant, with a woody, stiff root. I risked it; Docteur Jamain survived his removal; and now has a flourishing progeny in my garden and also on the market of certain rosarians to whom I gave him. Docteur Jamain is a deep red, not very large flowers, but so sweetly and sentimentally scented. Some writers would call it nostalgically scented, meaning everything that burying one’s nose into the heart of a rose meant in one’s childhood, or in one’s adolescence when one first discovered poetry, or the first time one fell in love." Vita Sackville-West (1892 – 1962)

Click to read more interesting information about Ms. Sackville-West's Sissinghurst Castle and Gardens Kent, UK

Souvenir du Docteur Jamain

Origin: Bred by François Lacharme (France, 1865)

Breed salvaged by Vita Sackville-West (Sissinghurst Castle 1930s)

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  • Writer's pictureMarie Ohanesian Nardin

Today, April 25th, is a special day throughout Italy and particularly in Veneto, so I'd like to share a post I wrote some years ago on my former blog Italy to Los Angeles and Back. The text is still pertinent today:

Not only is April 25th the anniversary of Italy’s liberation during

World War II in 1945 from Nazi fascism rule, it’s also the day commemorating Venice’s patron saint, St. Mark. San Marco, as he is proudly referred to around town, is represented in Venice as the winged lion, often holding an open book with the Latin inscription Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus—Peace to You Mark My Evangelist. The regal lion can be found in the most conspicuous places around the city and region of Venice, and can still be seen carved into the historical walls of foreign ports scattered around the Adriatic and Mediterranean were La Serenissima—the Most Serene Republic of Venice once ruled.

How Saint Mark came to rest in Venice: It is said that in 828 A.D. due to the tension and the mercenary competition between La Serenissima and the Islamic regions to the south, the remains of Saint Mark were taken from Alexandria, Egypt and smuggled onto a boat stocked with pork meat. Not the most noble means of travel, particularly for a Saint, but quite an ingenuous idea on the part of two Venetian mariners—Bon or Good from Malamocca and Andrea known as Rustico or Rustic from Torcello. The shrewd captain and his first-mate knew that hiding dear Saint Mark among a bunch of ham hocks would keep the non-pork consuming Islamic customs agents from further investigating their cargo, and open up their nautical route back home to Venice, and a heroes’ welcome. In fact it is written that Doge Giustinian paid them 100 pounds of silver; a large sum that would enable them to finance the construction of St. Mark’s oratory on the island of Torcello, and become Venetian legends.

Il Bòcolo - The Rosebud

Shakespeare couldn’t have written a better tale.

There once was a noble young woman by the name of Maria Partecipazio who fell fast in love with a kind, yet poor troubadour named Tancredi. Of course that didn’t sit well with Maria’s father. So one night while the two were having a clandestine rendezvous in her family’s gondola, Maria whispered the perfect solution into her handsome poet’s ear. Tancre, she syllabled quietly so as not to be heard by the family gondolier if you were to join the military and become a war hero then I’m sure my father would let you marry me! Well the poor guy was pretty smitten and knowing a troubadour made fewer ducats than a soldier he followed his true love's suggestion.

Before he knew it he was part of Carlo Magno’s distinct order and fighting the tough battle against the Spanish Moors. But, as all good tragedies go, he never made it back. What happened was that while he was fighting the good fight—apparently in a garden—he was injured and fell on a bed of white roses, turning them deep red. Minutes before he expelled his last breath he plucked a long-stem rose from the bush and handed it to his companion and fighter of the cause, Orlando. It took all the strength Tancredi had to ask Orlando to deliver the rose tinged with his blood to his beloved Maria.

Soon after, Orlando arrived back in Venice; it was April 24th and the eve of the patron Saint’s celebration. In keeping with his promise, Orlando delivered the rose to Maria along with Tancredi’s final message of love. Nowhere is it written, but it is understood that Maria was quite distraught for having sent the only man she loved off to war, and to his death. The following morning, on the 25th of April, the young noble woman was found dead with Tancredi’s rosebud placed upon her heart.

From that moment on il bòcolo became the Venetian symbol to pledge one’s love and each year on April 25th thousands of maidens, young and old, are handed a long-stem red rose by their enamored knights.

Buona Festa della Liberazione - Buona Festa di San Marco!

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