After Pasqua and Pasquetta . . . Liberation Day

Pasquetta–one Italian spring tradition I wish we could import to the US–blurs sometimes into another holiday, Liberation Day. Pasquetta, or “Little Easter” (since Easter is Pasqua), follows on the heels of Sunday’s colomba, Easter sweet bread with almonds, and gigantic, cellophane-wrapped chocolate eggs. Pasquetta engages Italians with Monday outings to the countryside, where the renewal of nature likewise renews the spirit. Who doesn’t love the idea of stretching a holiday through Monday and—especially enamoring—that invitation to be out in nature, which is springing to life? Even better in the Italian spring is that right after Pasquetta, the Festa della liberazione, or Liberation Day, calls for another outdoor celebration.

Co-traveler Neil Guion, happy for sunshine and the greening earth, near Agrigento, Sicily, Spring 2009.

Liberation Day celebrates the 1945 uprising against German Nazi forces and Fascist leader, Benito Mussolini. Today, much like many of our national holidays, celebrations vary from place to place and family to family. During my Fulbright experience in Sicily, friends in Catania invited our family to join theirs for a gathering not too far outside the city, where they maintained some family land. Our “liberation” was getting out of the city.

As I wrote in my journal, escaping the city renewed our spirits. Usually surrounded by the black lava stone hardscape of Catania, our urban home for five months, we craved countryside as much as we had craved chocolate Easter eggs two weeks before.

Our Sicilian friends knew how to welcome us to their farm near Etna’s slopes. As one son mentioned (as I recorded in my journal), “it reminded him of barbeque with Uncle Hervey.” That uncle, an Arkansas farmer, knows how to go “whole hog” when it comes to casual outdoor entertaining for family.

Artichokes fruiting in April on Sicilian family farm

My memories: Artichokes growing. Charcoal glowing. People laughing. Fava beans. Cheese. Olives. Farm wine. Grilled meat. The aroma of rosemary. And lemons. Lots of lemons.   

Informal antipasto: fresh fava beans, local ricotta, olives and bread

First, the fresh fava beans, fresh bread, local ricotta, and olives appeared on a table set up near the grill—no formalities needed. The beans were not cooked and pureed as they often are, but stripped of shell and eaten raw, on the spot. Then a few olives, a bit of cheese and a bite of bread followed. Next someone began pouring wine from the family’s cantina.

Liberation Day festivities, with family wine

I noted as I snagged a few tastes that almost all the other women present were in the kitchen—primarily men surrounded this table. They also circled around the grill. As in much of US culture, grill duty was/is often of the male domain.

But I used photography and my Americanness as rationale for escaping indoor duties that day. (I did help with table setting—outside—and clean up.)

I was not alone in needing the outside time. But my family and I must have had plenty, for I also noted in the journal, “Today was a smashing day in the country—I didn’t even complain about all the meat smoke that was in my clothes and hair.” For me, ever sensitive to smells, that statement says much.

And a memory triggered not by a photo but only by a journal entry: “Ended with ice cream from San Giovanni li Cuti.” What better end to a spring day than gelato?

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This week in 2021 saw several cool spring days and, although the Ozarks are alive with flowering dogwood and redbud, my heart ached all week to be hiking elsewhere. Elsewhere might be anywhere new and different, where scenery stimulates with its beauty. Yet memories pull like magnets, carrying me back to hikes along Sicilian paths.

A spring circuit of Sicily in March blurs in my memory with Holy Week travels and the Liberation Day celebration. While my journal record keeps it straight, I prefer a more sensual record of visual images and memories rather than hard, fast dates. What I remember of that circuit?

Engaging Italy
Spring at Selinunte, Sicily

Spring sent life coursing through everything–the seemingly dormant landscape, the sometimes calm sea, and even the otherwise sleepy snails. My family was happy to turn with the earth, from shorter days and chilly wind to longer days with brighter light, open spaces outside our urban apartment walls. As I wrote in my journal, the greening landscape and flowers renewed our spirits.

Farm near Etna on Sicily

There even the scrub arising from soil–farmed for centuries, enriched by lava–struck my senses because it was new to me when I encountered it. My old eyes saw freshly the places they had only seen on pages of travel magazines. Glimpses of a guidebook’s photos never do justice to that first witness of a site–the sensual encounter that includes the sounds, the smells, the textures and temperatures which the visual alone lacks.

Storm blowing in at Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily

And so today I dream, a desk traveler, of recalling those sensations in Sicily. Sharing them sends me on a pleasant journey. Where might we travel next?

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My forthcoming book, Engaging Italy: American Women’s Utopian Visions and Transnational Networks, emerges from those Fulbright months. Learn more about the book and my journeys from future blogs and by following on social media.

Want more information? Contact me directly by email or private message. Send a query about Italy or suggest a topic for a future blog.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you.

Etta

Etta Madden

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