To talk; to articulate

19 Jun

Sicilian men talking in the piazza.

In Sicily talking is an art. The definition of talking is articulation of words but in Sicily it is articulation of the whole body. Here, when people talk, they stand or sit close to each other. Faces and mouths are inches apart. Sicilians walk arm-in-arm, touch, pat, and kiss frequently; men to men, women to women, men to women, women to men, girls to girls, boys to boys and everyone to bambinos.

We came upon this group of men lined up on a stone steps in front of the cathedral in the Piazza Duomo in Catania. All ages sitting cheek by jowl. Some were talking, many were smoking, most were watching the activity in the piazza. They only sit here in the morning when the church is in shadow. They go home for lunch and do not return until the next morning. This is what they do every day. Meeting to talk is a legitimate activity, highly regarded in their culture.

Standing in the street is the optimal place to carry on a conversation in Sicily. If a car comes along, the car must wait for the person talking to finish their comment. Then the group moves aside, slightly, to let the car by without a break in the conversation. All conversants give the driver a dirty look in passing.

I have yet to see a child interrupt a parental conversation. Parents stop in the street to talk and talk until they are finished. Their children wait and they listen. They seem to know not to interrupt.

Couples have disagreements openly as they are walking down the street. Voices are raised. Hand motions are many and agitated. But this is an accepted ritual, not particularly noticed by passers-by. By the same token, couples kiss passionately in the street. We especially like that.

There is always time for a long talk and a long meal in Sicily, a civilized and sweet tradition.

Note: The symbol of the city of Catania sits in the center of the Piazza Duomo. It is the Fontana dell’Elefante, an ancient lavic stone elephant. Legend has it that the original elephant was neuter, which the men of Catania took as an insult to their virility. To appease them, the artist appropriately appended elephantine testicles to the original statue.

8 Responses to “To talk; to articulate”

  1. runningfam June 22, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    I’ve been fascinated by the differences of how we raise our children in the U S vs Europe and found it interesting about kids never interrupting adults and respect. Here kids seem to rule. Hard to walk the line of wanting that but living in the wrong country and no good example of how to do it – plus I’m a softy right now. There’s a book that was popular called bringing up bebe. Re: French families & badically ignoring your kids to teach resoect and self re-liance..but I think it’s the same throughout Europe. Can you tell where I am in life or what?!

    • Jill June 22, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

      I just read that there is a new study showing Italian fathers only spend 45 minutes per day in child care. Yet it seems like I see Daddies holding and kissing babies everywhere. There is a lot of public demonstration of affection here. On the other hand, I see a lot of Dads riding with the kids on their scooters and motorcycles which makes me very nervous. I saw one the other day where the baby (2 to 3) was standing up in front of Dad. Yikes!

      I hear you when you say how difficult it is to go against the culture in which you live for child raising. I think this becomes even more pronounced when kids go to school. One of the things that families do here is eat together and spend time with the family at meals. Also slathering your kids with kisses and hugs no matter how old they are seems healthy. These seem like doable differences to maintain in American culture.

      In another culture we visited Roratonga in the Cook Islands, all adults and older children watched out for the younger children in the community. It was an accepted practice. We were amazed one Sunday when we saw three teen-aged boys pick up and cuddle a baby who was just wandering from pew to pew in church. Didn’t matter who she belonged to.

      I don’t know what to say about Europe and France in particular. Charlotte would have a much better take on that being a French “child” and a mother in America. It does seem Europeans have a different technique.

  2. ohmypepper June 19, 2012 at 5:26 pm #

    Am I the only one who is waiting for a photo of the statue with the elephantine testicles???

    • Jill June 19, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

      We tried but they wouldn’t fit in the panoramic format.

  3. Maryl June 19, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    Nice to see that there are places in the world where people actually communicate by talking and gesticulating rather than just texting. However, thankfully, when communication is not available side-by-side on a church step, there is the internet and blogs to stay in touch.

    • Jill June 19, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

      We had a really interesting conversation with Gigliola Nocera, our landlady and her sister, Donatella. Gigliola asked us about people moving in the US and how they kept friends and family close. Her family has lived here, here in Siracusa for 400 years. For these two sisters they can’t imagine living away from all of the human relationships that tether them here.They live in the house their father built and next door to the house where they were children. In the 20s and 30s in Sicily people had to leave to survive and many went to the U.S. Today young people leave for a better education and more opportunities. The men sitting on the bench probably grew up together. Years in the future I wonder if the next generation will still be there.

  4. Ursula Freer June 19, 2012 at 4:52 am #

    I am getting the distinct feeling that youmay be spending the rest of your trip in Sicily!

    • Jill June 19, 2012 at 5:40 am #

      We do like Sicily and are really looking forward to the next three countries, then coming home to Santa Fe. I hope I can remember and practice what I am learning on this trip. Living in other cultures changes you. You see other ways to live. Above all, this is why I love to travel.

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