The First Prizzi Goodbye

All day on Tuesday I thought that we were preparing to go to Toto’s farm. But it turns out that there was an apparent language barrier. After Toto returned from his weekly visit to his farm we went to visit him for the last time. He expressed frustration in not being able to talk with me, but we were able to use Mariella and Enrica as translators. He told us that our great grandfather was a well respected man in Prizzi. He worked as an intermediary or negotiator for agricultural commodities.  He said that the entire family lived in that small house and the entire family was respected for their hard work. We kissed each other’s cheeks and said goodbye.

After our visit with Toto we took another stroll as a passegenatta with no specific goal. We enjoyed the town. At one point the traffic at one of the main intersections was wild. Pedestrians, cars and vespas were all trying to use the same space that was designed for donkeys. The madness of it all brought a smile to Elizabeth’s face, especially after an older Prizziana commented on the bedlam. Elizabeth


It was now our last night. Even though the quality and quantity of the food had been exceptional they saved the best for last.  They brought out the Arancini, stuffed rice balls. They also served a puffed pastry shrimp dish, antipasto, salad and other dishes. We ate until we were stuffed to the top. Elizabeth and I felt like we would not need to eat again for the rest of our trip. Both Alice and Salvatore arrived late because of 12 hour school days. They were very tired. Salvatore is preparing for his final exams. He wants to study political science. Enrica’s volleyball team is playing in the regional tournament this weekend. The kids are very active, engaging and a delight to be around.Arroncini

We had our final discussions. We all agreed that we had overcome the language barrier though Enzo felt frustrated because he had more to say. Giovanni, who appeared to understand English, did not have the same frustrations. The children were polite but appeared to be satisfied with the communication of our visit. Everyone had carried an Italian/English dictionary around. We had used Google translator on many occasions. We all laughed when someone would pull out the dictionary or go to the computer. But we were able to openly discuss family, politics, religion, culture, finance, sports, lifestyles and of course Sicilian cooking.  We truly shared our time together. We communicated as a family. We departed with many hugs and kisses.

For several days we had been discussing the quickest way for us to drive to the airport in Catania. Enzo was the most experienced and was able to identify the quickest and easiest route. The following morning he even drove us to the on ramp for the highway. It was near his ranch. Even in his own frustrated way he was able to contribute. He was the last to say goodbye.

We are a lucky family to have located and been introduced to this group of cousins. These two families are exceptional. Our visit was not their ordinary life. I do not know what their daily routine really is but I can tell that their family structure is based on values of trust, love and dedication to family. To me, the two families acted as one. My cousins are extraordinary human beings. They are intelligent, loving, hardworking and sensitive. They have raised children that are the same. They have husbands that support who they are. They have built a life that to me appears to be very fulfilling. Their lifestyle is humble but very comfortable. They appear to be frugal and prepared for the uncertain future of the Italian economy. Mariella is unconventional in her intellectual pursuits. Rosalba seems to be a classic nurturer. They both respect tradition but can see past it, into the future for their families The unsung heroine in this adventure was my wife. She was able to bond with these two women almost immediately. The three women seemed to be giggling like school girls at every moment. My cvousins even told me that if my wife had not been with me I would have been in trouble. I do not disagree.

I like Sicilia. I like the slow paced life style, the small shops, the long lunch hour, the natural food process, the family structure. I was average height there. And even though I earned the reputation of being totally illiterate in Italian, I was able to have conversations with people on the street and achieved every communication I wanted.  Toto thinks I look like a Siciliano. As I told Elizabeth, it was because I wore a jacket.  Carlos

The Birthday Party

I mentioned to our cousins that I wanted to take both families to dinner in honor of Enrica’s birthday. Because it was Monday, all of the restaurants in Prizzi were closed. Eventually it was decided to drive to the neighboring town of Palazzo Adriano to celebrate. We had the best pizza as well as a gelato birthday cake. We joked and laughed enjoying the celebration. When I went to pay the tab, the waiter said that he would not accept money from me. I was not sure what to think, was he kidding me, did I do something wrong? . He spoke with Mariella and she confirmed that I was going to pay for the meal. It turns out that, as a guest of the family, it was very culturally Birthday editinsensitive for me to pay. I may be a cousin, but I was still the guest. Enzo seemed a bit flustered. I seemed to have upset the way it was done. I saw one family, but the two cultures had different perspectives.  Rosalba encouraged him to say thank you in English. I was grateful They had been preparing food and feeding us for three days. It was a celebration that I had requested, I felt that I owed them at least one group dinner. Enrica gracefully accepted a token present from her American aunt & uncle and the meal was over.

On the way back to Prizzi  as we drove along the river, I noticed through the trees, the lighted cross at the top of the hill in Prizzi. As we drove in silence, each in their own thoughts, that cross seemed like a beacon of hope for the many generations that had left their home and traveled far. It seemed to offer reassurance that  their home was still here. It was giving notice, like a lighthouse on the coast, that the mountains of Sicilia were waiting for their inevitable safe return.

The Family Business

The next day, Monday, the kids were off to school early. Their parents all took vacation for our visit. We found out that it was Enrica’s 16th birthday. After the coffee, pane and frutta, some housework and our lauIMG_2862ndry, Mariella, Rosalba, Elizabeth and I set out to look at the lower part of Prizzi where the Tessitore clan resided.

The house of course has been remodeled but the Tessitore’s lived the older portion of this structure. The bottom floor was originally for the animals. The family lived on the top two floors according to the stories told to us. We traipsed around and talked with neighbor

The house of course has been remodeled but the Tessitore’s lived the older portion of this structure. The bottom floor was originally for the animals. The family lived on the top two floors according to the stories told to us. We traipsed around and talked with neighbors and friend of Rosalba’s. We heard the story told about the long lost cousins coming from America. It was a very popular and well received story. By this time I could understand the entire story in Italian, Two old men said that they used to know Nicolo’s sister Anna when they were young. We stopped at one house to visit with a friend and of course had another cup of coffee. While we were there, a younger man came in and we talked about the churches and the lack of Tessitore church interiorpriests in Prizzi. But it turns out this man had the keys to the church next door, Chiesa di Maria del Succorso. The sign says that it was established in 1656. It is the church where the Tessitore family attended, were married, baptized and buried. The church is not used these days except for special occasions. But our family history is connected to these structures.

We had lunch at Mariella’s house. Salvatore and Alice had finished school and were able to join us. The food was Sicilian specialties; Pasta con le Sarde is a breaded Sardine with raison stuffing, a breaded Fennel Frittata dish that was called fake fish in Sicilian. It looked like little fish and tasted wonderful. There were fresh vegetables, salad and was finished with the final servings of tiramisu. We all had a cup of espresso at the end.

After lunch we went for another stroll. We went to the main street and looked at the public buildings. It turns out that most of our cousins, and there families work for the local government. I mentioned to Giovanni that it seemed to be the family business. He chuckled and shook his head yes. Giovanni is the director of the library. His brother & sister in law work for the town of Prizzi. Mariella is a teacher. Rosalba works with Public Records. Enzo works part time for the forest Service. Yes the government is the family business. In the small towns of Sicily there is no other industry. Subsistence family farming provides fresh foods and the government job provides the cash. It is a way of life for my cousins.,

One Palma

As we walked back into the center of Prizzi we stopped to meet yet another first cousin of Mariella and Rosalba, Paulo. He is Maria’s and Enza’s younger brother. His wife Dina was another dynamic Sicilian woman who took control.  Of course we were offered coffee, sweets and drinks. Paulo showed some interest in Paulo in Prizziour meeting and pulled some old, but very well kept photos from his wallet and showed us how much he and his father looked alike at a young age, and they did. His son Paulo joined the party and laughed at the jokes.

On the way home we shared a moment at a plaque commemorating the switch from the Sicilian form of measurement to the metric measurement system. It is dated April 28, 1862. Elizabeth felt the need to demonstrate the large span of her hands. By the way, her hand span is slightly less than 1 palmo. We finally arrived back at Rosalba’s. We watched the news and other Italian television shows. Enrica claims that her father always has the TV on watching the news. It sounds like the complaints I hear at home. We had the traditional late dinner around 9:00 PM or later. We were able to enjoy the left-overs from the day’s big feast at the ranch. It was still exceptionally good.

                                                                      1 Palma                                      We had our final conversations with Nicola and Carmelo who were headed back to Palermo early in the morning to return to the university. Carmelo wants to be an energy engineer and Nicola is studying agricultural engineering but would like to be a large animal veterinarian. It had been one remarkable day.    I had never anticipated the level of acceptance that I was feeling in my grandparent’s hometown and still the hometown for many of the descendants of his siblings. The questions I had about this familial reconciliation were all being answered in a completely positive way.

The Evening Stroll

After we returned from the barbeque, It was then time for an evening stroll to and visit the streets and alley’s at the top of Prizzi. The top of the town rests on a cliff for medieval defensive strategies. The castle and the old fortifications are there. The views were incredAlleywayible and the wind had a chill to the Virgin Islanders in the group. Carmelo was my personal protector. He made sure I would not slip on the carved stones and steep stairs of which there were many. I was glad that he was there. He and I kept a dialogue about the town, the family, Sicilian education and life. Elizabeth was chatting with Mariella, Rosalba, Enrica and Alice. I asked the two girls if they were having a good time and they both enthusiastically said yes.

At the edge of town was a very large park. It is unkempt but grand in scale. It has a lighted cross at the top that can be seen for miles. There is an amphitheater and terraced gardens. The beginning of the sunset was magnificent.    Carmelo at the park

We continued our stroll. We met many people who seemed to be interested or knowledgeable about whom we were. We heard the telling of our story several times. I was starting to hear the narrative in Italian. People remarked that they knew a Tessitore relative from the past, or that they too had relatives that visited from the states. The entire village of Prizzi was participating in our visit.

Toto and the family Barbecue

The next day after the staple Italian breakfast of espresso coffee, pane and biscotti we started our rounds of Prizzi. Elizabeth and I went to Mariella’s house and had more coffee and waited for others to show up. Mariella’s house is a little smaller, a little older but very comfortable. We left and proceeded to one of my favorite moments of the entire trip. We went to Salvatore’s house. He is Mariella’s and Rosalba’s 90 year old father, affectionately called Toto. He is our parent’s first cousin. He and I both had tears in our eyes.  After some very stifled conversation, but with much love and respect in our hearts, we took a walk to have some more coffee down at the bar.


Toto and I walked arm in arm at his pace in a wordless connection of time and space. He pointed with pride to his lifelong home of Prizzi. He beamed with contentment that he had finally made contact with his lost family.


We had our coffee, ice cream and frizzantes and enjoyed a few moments together. We posed for pictures and talked with all the old men that were Toto’s friends. He seemed so proud to say that he had family in America that had come all that way to visit with him. I felt proud to be able to be there with him.

Prizzi Stroll

After Toto had enough, we took him home and continued on our stroll. We stopped at Cousin Maria’s house, who we met the night before. Maria is a first cousin to Mariella and Rosalba, but is a little older. She was the young girl in Toto’s wedding pictures. This woman is a real fireball and likes to take control of the room. Elizabeth and I enjoyed her spirit. She has a sister, Enza that lives in Palermo. Enza called me when we were at Toto’s to say that she was sorry that we would not meet but that that she wanted to say hello. We talked in broken Italian and English for several minutes. Maria also lives in Palermo but came to her home in Prizzi just to meet us.

But this was just the preliminary activity. The real focus for Sunday was a family barbecue and feast at Enzo and Rosalba’s 22 hectare ranch in Reina, about 20 minutes from Prizzi. The scene was very pastoral. The ridge line was dotted with 1 MW wind turbines that were not hooked up to the distribution grid. It seems to be a predictable problem in Sicilia. They did not believe that it happened in America also.Reina

We shelled the fava beans, built the fire for the BBQ and prepped for the feast. We ate fresh vegetable from the garden and fresh meats from the land. We played Sicilian card games with the kids. Almost every one enjoyed Mariella’s tiramisu. The diabetic in the crowd could only drool. It was a day that one dreams about sharing. All the while, Elizabeth’s Italian was improving, I was mumbling along and the English language was better understood. A real bond between the families was evolving. Everything that needed to be said was said. We cleaned up in the afternoon and drove back to Prizzi

Changing Directions

We were already set to leave for Sicily in less than a month. But a change in direction was now afloat. My cousins insisted that we come stay with them. I would have stayed the entire time, but my wife really wanted to keep the first leg of our stay. She and I and my new cousins agreed that we would adjust the second leg of our visit and go to Prizzi in early May 2013.

I was bursting with anticipation. I was not sure what to expect. I knew from the pictures that one of my Sicilian cousins looked remarkably similar to one of my American cousins. How many similarities would we find? Could we bridge the differences of age and culture? My cousins father was and is still alive. My father’s first cousin was as close as our family could get. I looked forward to the reconciliation of our two families separated by distance and time.

We started the journey; long, tiresome and cramped in coach. We stopped for an afternoon in the Rome airport and flew to Palermo. When I disembarked and stood on Sicilian ground, I felt as if I had been there before. The next day we arrived in Castelbuono. We stayed in a rustic country home near the end of an increasingly rough road. The house was on a steep slope with olives, limes, wild fennel and a cat. We began our introduction to the culture that was embedded in my bones. It was early spring with fruit and vegetables bursting with flavor. Fresh cheeses seemed to find my basket every day.

I called my cousin Mariella. I needed to hear her voice. Even though I had been studying the language for six months, as I expected, my limited command of Italian completely disappeared. Her verbal English was not much better. We laughed with each other about the futility of our conversation, or the lack of it. But I was determined. I continued to call. The language improved slightly and we did establish a fleeting connection. We heard each others voices. We knew that we were very near. it was decided that my cousin would come to Castelbuono and guide us to Prizzi. I was convinced that she believed  her American cousin could read a map of Sicily as poorly as he could speak the Italian language. I think that she was as anxious as I to finally meet, to see each other in real time, to touch and feel and know that the connection was finally complete. Like her I hoped that in person we could have a better understanding of our thoughts and ideas. We could talk with our hands, the universal Italian language. She kept praying that when we saw each other, face to face, we would be able to know what we meant. I said maybe, but she was right, it was better face to face. We agreed on a time and a place to meet.

My other cousin, Rosalba could not wait. It turns out that she had made her sister and Giovanni come to pick us up in Castelbuono a day early so that we would not get lost. I bragged that I never got lost. She also wanted us to visit with the college age sons on SRosalba Houseunday before they left for college. She was correct. I might have become lost on the way to Prizzi. We drove to Prizzi with Mariella in a drizzling rain, talking in English the entire way for two and one half hours. When we arrived in Prizzi we were brought to Rosalba’s house because it was the larger of the two sister’s houses. It is a beautiful Sicilian house. The floors are marble and the bathrooms are just perfect according to my wife the appraiser.Rosalba’s daughter, Enrica, was home when we arrived. We went to the dining room and started to chat, but Rosalba and Enrica could not speak English and my wife Elizabeth and I were not up to speed with Italian. Enrica asked her mother how this was going work if we could not talk to each other. Well it did work. Enrica could read and write English so some notes were passed and we became comfortable with each other. Soon the other family meGroup Photo prizzimbers arrived. Rosalba’s husband Enzo, the two older sons, Mariella’s Carmelo and Rosalba’s Nicola. It was followed up with Mariella’s other two children Salvatore and Alice. Another cousin Maria also came. We looked at photos and discussed family members and started to become acquainted, the young men all spoke English fairly well. Salvatore is a brash young man of 19. He said that he was the best. I called him modest. His dad called him Mr. Modesto for the duration of our visit. We had takeout pizza for dinner, as well as an assortment of Sicilian antipasto.  I was in heaven. La dolce vida.