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A brief comparison of Vermont and Sicily
by Stephen (Stepano) Morris
First, a brief comparison of Vermont and Sicily: They're about the same size. That's it for similarities.
Sicily is in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, making it a place of worldwide strategic importance. Bad luck. This means that over the past few thousand years it has been ruled by Arabs, Greeks, Romans, Spanish, Carthaginians and Normans, wherever the heck they came from. In World War II it was occupied by Germans and bombed by the Allies. It also boasts one of the world's most active volcanoes, Mount Etna.
Is this sounding familiar? Vermont has Quebekkers to the north, Yorkers to the west, and flatlanders to the south. We make a lot of noise about wanting to secede from America, and most of the country could not care less.
Because different cultures have had their way with Sicilians, their attitude is that maybe this current Italian thing is temporary. Another 200 years and they might join up with the Normans again. The most immediate threat is that Sicily is being overrun by a group called the "Jet Set" whose most noticeable feature is that they are willing to spend a small fortune for almost anything.
Vermont is the land of the Green Mountains. Its inhabitants seem to be irritated by having to spend so much time in the cold weather. Sicily's mountains were denuded by the Romans who needed the hillsides to grow wheat for their burgeoning Army. This happened roughly 2,000 years ago, not long after Vermont had been covered year-around with a thick ice sheet.
Vermont's tallest peak is Mount Mansfield. Sicily's is Mount Etna, twice as high and with a hole in the middle filled with molten lava. There is a ski resort on Etna, but if you get lost on the backside, you are immediately turned into a cinder. The skiing is actually quite terrible in Sicily, but the locals shouldn't take it too hard, because the olive oil in Vermont really sucks. So does our wine. Italians make a BIG DEAL out of food and eating. Lunch takes half the day, and leaves people so exhausted that they need the next three hours to recover.
So much has been written about Italian drivers that you'd think there would be nothing left to say. When we picked up our rental car at the Palermo Airport I managed three near collisions in the first few hundred feet. After a while, however, I figured out Laws of Italian Driving:
1. If you can get away with it, you must get away with it.
2. If you miss the other guy, it doesn't matter by how much.
In one city I watched a four-way intersection of busy streets with no traffic lights, signs or traffic cop. Somehow the cars, motor scooters and trucks converged on the intersection at breakneck speed, screeched to a halt, then threaded their way across, without the benefit of a sign, traffic light or cop. There was honking and hand gestures, but it all appeared friendly enough. I'm still trying to figure out the physics.
I won't pretend that the Italian language is simple. It took nearly a week for me to become fluent. Unlike the French, Italians seem delighted when foreigners butcher their language. A cheerful "Bon Giorno" or "Arrivederci" will earn you bonus points. Here are some more advanced tips.
The most important word in the language is "capiche," followed by a question mark, as in "Blahio, blahialla, blahalla, blabioroni … capiche?" The proper translations of "capiche" is "Do you realize I am just making random noises?" Always nod your head. This will invite more of what sounds like gibberish. After this has gone on for several minutes, the speaker (if you are actually a distant relative) will become very animated and shout "Imma you cousin! Imma you cousin!" which has no English counterpart. After embracing and getting kisses on each cheek, you will go to the speaker's home for a two-hour lunch, followed by a three-hour nap.
Occasionally the visitor to Sicily will need help with directions. The proper phrase to use in this instance is "Scusi" (excuse me). Then, lean out the window of your car, holding a map with your finger firmly planted on your intended destination. Speak if you want to, but it doesn't matter what language you use or what you say. Just watch the speaker's hands which will start bending first one direction, then the other, and he will be saying "capiche" a lot. The most important thing to remember is which direction was indicated first, because you will be repeating the exact same drill shortly after you turn that first corner. Make sure you are out of sight of the first direction giver, then lean out the window with another "Scusi?" and the finger on the map.
And to think, before this trip, the only Italian phrase I knew was for "I'm broke" … "mafunzalo." Get it? Say it out loud. MA-FUNZ-A-LO.. Make some hand gestures and try it one more time.
Let's see … history, topography, driving, food, language, culture. That covers it. Wonder where I should travel next?
Stefano Morris is the founder of The Public Press and is editor of Green Living Journal. Reach him at Stephen@thepublicpress.com . His most recent book, "The New Village Green," is now available at local bookstores.