Tag Archives: sicily

A Song for Bellafortuna – A Book Review

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Vincent B. “Chip” LoCoco wrote this delightful novel full of vivid imagery of the Sicilian hilltops and valleys.  Even though the countryside is beautiful and the citizens of Bellafortuna live in harmony with each other, life isn’t idyllic. At one time, Bellafortuna had been a thriving community that produced it’s own wine and olive oil.  But as hard times came around, the farmer’s were forced to seek assistance from the wealthy Vasaio family – who would loan them money but would, in return, charge exhorbitant interest rates.  So high, that it was impossible for these people to repay the loans, thus resulting in the loss of the properties that had been in their families for generations.  The people became poorer, while the Vasaios became richer and more powerful.  The farmers became disillusioned with their state of affairs, but they never lost the desire to work hard – in the hopes that one day they may be able to regain control of their land.  The one respite, which rallied their spirit, was their love of music.  Every week, they would hold a concert where they could escape reality for a short while. For a particular family,the Sanguinetti’s, successful wine merchants who were not under the control of the Vasaios, the problems facing their neighbors weighed heavily on their conscience.  Their success was, in part, due to their past association with the Vasaio’s.  Even though they had stepped away once they had realized the Vasaio’s sinister ways, they always tried to vindicate themselves by helping out their neighbors any way they could.  The villagers had long since forgotten and forgiven them, but the Sanguinetti’s still felt that they owed their neighbors.  The young Giuseppe Sanguinetti decided to take upon himself the duty of ridding the village of the Vasaio’s control.  He concocted a plan that would either bring about freedom for the villagers or result in squelching the town’s spirit once and for all.

The book stuns in its vivid description of beautiful Sicily, but I found the story to be too predictable.  I always seemed to know what the outcome would be for every situation.  The author’s writing style was simplistic and a bit redundant.  On the whole, though, it was an enjoyable read, but mostly for its imagery and romantic sense of life in an Italian village, surrounded by caring neighbors.

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Here are a few words from Chip LoCoco

A Love of Opera

A Song for Bellafortuna and my first novel, Tempesta’s Dream, all use music in the story, and not just any music, but opera.

I am often asked if I studied opera and if I can sing. My quick answer is, no, I have never studied opera, but I do sing – in the shower of course.  So although I am not musically inclined, I do have a passion for this art form. This love affair began when I was in high school, although, even as a little boy, music and opera surrounded me.

I grew up in a Sicilian/American family. On Sundays, after lunch, all the men would gather in the front room and listen to Giuseppe di Stefano and Mario Lanza opera recordings.

I still remember when I purchased my first opera recording. The compact disc players had just come out. A friend of mine loved Bach, and said how great classical music sounded CDs. So off I went to Smith’s Records in New Orleans to buy a Bach CD. Danny, a young clerk, offered his advice on a Bach CD, and when we started talking about music and opera, he told me I just had to buy a newly released recording of Puccini’s Tosca with a young Jose Carreras as the tenor. I came home and the rest, as they say, is history. Opera, and not just the music, but opera history and lore, became my hobby.

Without a doubt, I always wanted to pass down my love of opera and music to others.  But, because I am nonmusical, I do it through writing, instead of singing. So music is used throughout the story.  In my first novel, Tempesta’s Dream, music plays a central role as the story revolves around a young man from Milan, who wishes to become an opera tenor. In A Song for Bellafortuna, music is not the main character in the story, yet still plays an important role, as it is music that  the villagers rally behind.

I read one time that most writers will write about things that they are passionate about. Writing is hard, telling a story s hard – yet it becomes a lot easier, when you are telling a story that you feel passionate about, know a lot about, and can’t wait for people to read it and hopefully learn something.

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Chip LoCoco

Author of A Song for Bellafortuna and Tempesta’s Dream

Another Reason to Be Good – Santa Lucia ;)

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Kids, pay heed! It’s once again time to be good if you want to get candies and cookies and other goodies for the feast day of Santa Lucia on December 13th! With all these opportunities for getting gifts in exchange for being good (and avoiding that nasty gift of coal for being bad), it seems to me that December must be the most well-behaved month of the year! Perhaps some of these holidays should be spread out during the year so that the goodness can last a bit longer 🙂

The feast day of Santa Lucia is celebrated in various parts of Italy and in very different ways. In Sicily, where she was actually born and martyred, they celebrate her feast day with religious processions and special food. Legend has it that back in 1582, a severe famine miraculously ended on her feast day when ships loaded with grain entered the harbor. The people were so hungry that they didn’t take the time to grind the grain into flour, but boiled the grains immediately. Because of this, Sicilians, even to this day, will not eat anything made with flour on her feast day. No bread, no pasta! Instead, they make a traditional dish called cuccia. Everyone makes their cuccia a bit differently and the women have their kids bring their version to all the neighbors to sample. Here is one recipe, which sounds delicious and is tempting me to try it soon…

Cuccia

500 g. whole wheat (not ground)
500 g. ricotta
250 g sugar
salt
cinnamon
vanilla
candied fruits and/or chocolate chips

Soften the whole wheat for 2 days in water. After the 2 days, boil the wheat with a little bit of salt added to the water for at least an hour until it is cooked. Drain the wheat and let it settle for an hour before proceeding.
Meanwhile drain the ricotta until it is dry. Once dry, add the sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla and mix well (an electric mixer works well for this.) Stir in the candied fruits and/or chocolate chips.
Add the wheat mixture and mix it all up. Portion the mixture into individual bowls and sprinkle with cinnamon.

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The feast day of Santa Lucia is also celebrated in North-Eastern Italy, but in a totally different way. The traditional food eaten here is goose, and she is the one that brings gifts to the good boys and girls. She brings sweets and candies to the good ones, and guess what she brings to those not so good? Yep, once again they get coal!

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According to tradition, she arrives during the night between Dec. 12th and Dec. 13th in the company of a donkey and her escort, Castaldo. Children are asked to leave coffee for Lucia, a carrot for the donkey, and a glass of wine for Castaldo. In exchange, she leaves candies and sweets for the children. But don’t get any ideas of catching a glimpse of her – if she sees you, she will throw ash in your eyes! Yikes!

When I asked my mom about her memories of Santa Lucia, the only thing she came up with was this little rhyme:
Santa Lucia – il giorno piu corto che ci sia! (Santa Lucia – the shortest day there is). I always thought the shortest day was December 21st…hmm…maybe I’ve been wrong all these years! Obviously, my mom didn’t grow up in one of the places where her feast day was heavily celebrated!

This very traditional Italian song, Santa Lucia, is always one that brings me back to my childhood when these songs were always sung at gatherings at the Italian Social Club my parents belonged to in San Francisco.  And of course, when Andrea Bocelli sings it, I can swoon!

Sicilian Wine Tour

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Before I even get into writing about this experience, I want to let you know that I am, by no means, a wine expert!  My post is definitely written as a “regular” wine consumer, and therefore my descriptions and explanations are very simplified!  

 This past weekend, I had the pleasure of being an interpreter for a group of 6 family run wineries from Sicily that are on a USA tour promoting their unique wines!  The tour has been named the X Wine Tour 2011. The wineries are looking to bring their wine talents to the San Francisco Bay Area and therefore had a presentation to members of the wine and restaurant industry.  At times, my translating skills were put to the test when the technical aspects of wine production were discussed…but, as in all languages, when you don’t know the exact term, you find a work around!  Even though my translations probably weren’t very “wine-specific”, I think I was able to make myself understood!

During the presentations at the press event by each winery on Sunday at the Italian Consulate,  I learned so much about wine production in Sicily, and the uniqueness of their wines and grapes.  Sicily is an island where the sun plays a huge part in the final wine product, thus leading to a sweeter grape (and also a higher alcohol content!).  The terrain and the various altitudes where the grapes are grown also contribute to their uniqueness.  Sicily has grapes that are indigenous to their island.  thus creating wines varieties that are only produced there.   They also produce wines with “international” grapes, but these as well,  take on a totally different aspect because of Sicily’s particular characteristics.

The two wineries I assisted with produced totally different wines.  The first one, FINA, produced red and white wines – some with indigenous grapes and others with “international” ones.  I learned that the typical Sicilian variety of red wine, Nero d’Avolo, is widely produced and distributed worldwide.   But what the wine merchants wanted to stress was that Sicily produces so much more than just Nero d’Avolo!  The indigenous white wine grapes had lovely names with  Grillo and Zibibbo being my favorites!

The second winery I interpreted for, CANTINE INTORCIA, only made Marsalas and dessert wines.  But their Marsalas were different than the norm.  They had a very dry Marsala, Marsala Vergine Soleras,  which, when chilled, could be served as an aperitif with cheese.  Serving this very same Marsala at room temperature completely changed the palate and pairing it with biscotti or even meats was great!  Who ever thought of Marsala as a dinner or apertif type of wine?  But because the Marsala is dry, it lends itself to this.  I also had the pleasure of experiencing the sweet wonder of their Passito – the wine produced from those grapes that have dried on the vine.

The information I gained was so interesting – and the best was that I was exposed to that unique “continent” which is Sicily!  The Sicilians very affectionately call their island a continent….and now I see why!  It has a character all its own, with a history so diverse and intriguing that it could easily be a continent unto itself.  Even though they are technically part of Italy, their land is different and their people have a character all their own.  I’m just thankful that they speak a language that I can communicate in, so that when I do visit it (which will be very soon, I hope), I can experience it to the fullest!