February 16, 2016
“All’annigatu, petri di ‘ncoddru.” This Sicilian expression roughly translates as “Piling stones on the backs of the drowned.” Kind of a tougher version of “When it rains it pours,” and a Sicilian comment on politics, taxes, etc. etc. There are, it turns out, distinctly Sicilian versions of just about everything, including language, food, wine, hand gestures and politics.
Some remarkable things: Sicilian (the language) and Italian are pretty much mutually incomprehensible. Sicilian reads like Basque, or something unrecognizable, incorporating words from Spanish, Greek, Arabic, Celtic, and very little French, mirroring the many conquests and struggles for independence on the island. There are even distinct versions of Sicilian that vary from town to town. In the local (privately operated, free) lending library, I was offered a dictionary of “Licatisi” – the specific variant of Siciliano spoken in Licata. Wanting to brag a little, I told the librarian that I had learned a little Sicilian, including “picciludro” (the equivalent of the Italian “bambino” – a male child). “No, no,” she said, “it’s ‘piccilidru.’”
“But it’s right here in Camilleri,” I said. “Beh, é Palermitano!” she said, meaning that because he was from Palermo he couldn’t speak proper Sicilian, Licata-style. There’s even a story that during the most dire stages of the rebellion against Bourbon domination, people who failed to pronounce Sicily correctly were shot, since it was proof that they were foreigners. It’s “See-cheel-yah,” not “See-seel-yah”. Be careful!
One of the other striking things about town is the pack of 40 or more “wild” dogs that roams the streets. They are of very mixed heritage, but one sees a lot of yellow lab as maybe the dominant strain. There are certainly wild packs in Mexico and other poor countries, but the difference here is that the town kind of acknowledges ownership of the dogs. They are healthy, mostly very friendly, independent, and most have names known to all the locals. Vets give them shots, everyone feeds them, and shelter is found for their puppies. Some look kind of scary, especially “Rocky” (or “Hugo” as he is known to some), a kind of pit bull, big, with lots of muscles. But he, like the others, is good natured. By the way, if you click on the photos they will appear in a largely version – a lot better for viewing.
Even cats get taken care of, to some degree. Out on the breakwater, near the fish farm, a colony of wild cats is fed by the fish farm guard every day. Pasta, fish and meat, and water is provided. No one pays.
Practicing my Italian, I asked the guard (shown in the photo) about a big fish die-off we had seen in the harbor a couple months. “It was a Mafioso,” he said, explaining that illegal dredging around a construction project had depleted the water of oxygen. Then he gave the distinctive local shrug. The cops showed up, but nothing happened…
Time is flying by and the weather is warming up. In another six weeks or so, we’ll be looking to head out of Licata for parts unknown. But we’ll be back in Licata this coming winter, ready to spend more time in this deeply interesting, largely poor but cohesive town.