Aquaficara, a small commune within the Province of Messina, Sicily, covered with groves of oranges, lemons, grape vines and olive trees. Nearby this small village were fields of wheat and rolling hills covered with wild flowers. The mountain filled with richness from the ground but worked by peasants and owned by a “Padrone.”
Village people slaved over rich soil and their Padrone prospered. In reality, I believe the mere existence of seeing the Mediterranean Sea from a window on the second level of a stone home brought some peace of mind to the village people.
My great grandfather, Francisco Duci, had rights to a section of land where wheat grew. Every morning he fetched his donkey, walked a path that began along the side of his stone home. I guess, as he climbed onto the donkeys back and began up the hill, he stopped to gaze to his right to view the sun as it grew from the sea, changing colors for another day. I guess the sea transformed from coal, darkened by the mountain at night, to light fluttering on the top of the water in various shades of pink. And, as the sun grew larger the sea changed to aqua. In the distance, gazing over the mountains ledge, are the Aeolian Islands. Francisco picked wheat, filled sacks, and walked his donkey to a stone hut where he unloaded the wheat inside the hut and away from the sun. When the sun would begin to set Francisco climbed back onto his donkey to head down the mountain. Perhaps he glanced to his left to see a sun falling into the sea of orange, and red; colors like the geranium bushes, oranges, and lemons of the land: colors soaking up the sea and tinting the sky, a soft shade of purple. A path of dirt turns to cobblestone when he reached the village square.
The square, surrounded by stone houses nestled into the side of a mountain; streets were narrow, balconies filled with brilliant flowers, and the stoop where people gathered. When a gust of wind headed toward the village, at times, it would cover the street and plants with a thin layer of ash from Mount Etna, but it would be the heavy spring rain that benefited the crops. During the month of June the village people began kissing their golden cross hanging around their neck praying for no rain – if it rained in June it would cause a disaster for the olive business, ruining fresh buds sprouting on the trees. Winter consisted of a few flakes of snow on the high mountains; snow covered a palm tree, two to three times a year, but most of the time the weather was tropical to grow such lavish fruit and vegetation which began thousands of years before Francisco walked narrow streets, or sat on the stoop listening to the peddlers.
A simple stone stoop in front of a home was a gathering place for men and women. The village people would argue over the price of nuts, fish, or flour. If a woman sat alone with her eyes closed, her body swaying as she prayed quieting, it would be for the safe return of her husband or children who left the village and soon would return from America. By the late 1800’s a postcard would arrive with a photograph of their loved one, most likely taken in the big city, called New York City, where the Brooklyn Bridge was an icon to those in the village. Once the postcard arrived those left behind knew at least, for the time until another postcard arrived, their loved ones were alive. Women, who were left alone but gathered in a group beneath an olive tree outside of the village, yet far enough away from the witches who gathered down a path, which brought you to the sea, staying far away from the witches evil. If the men remained in Sicily, the stoop would be the place they gathered in the evening to repair shoes, detangle fishing nets, twisting wheat, and watching the peddlers, some men striking a deal by trading goods.
The stone homes were deeper rather than wide and one room served as the kitchen. Inside, the main room was the kitchen where most of the chores happened. A table needed for meals or to cook, and above the table away from the fire, dough would rise with the sunrise, then stretched over tubes to form macaroni. The first chore in the morning was given to the woman or the oldest daughter who walked to the well where a fountain of clean water would fill a large bottle, and upon their shoulder the heavy bottle would be placed as they walked home. Older, hollow cheeked women, who sat hunched over, would stare at the young with dark eyes, remembering when they walked those very steps. Depending on the size of ones’ family, made the difference how many trips the woman would make to the well. On the walls of the home would be photographs America, and Madonna.
For three thousand years people lived together in comunes in the mountains of Sicily because the land was so rich. The Romans began fostering the ownership of these rolling fields, leading to peasantry of its people, and one very well to-do landlord. The people of these mountain villages would be “renting” their piece of land to cultivate. The amount each family earned from their landlord depended on how well they delivered. When the people glanced at the fields of wheat, olives, oranges, lemons, and more… you see the fruit of the land of distant cultures and people were treated differently.
A culture of close knit people who danced the tarantella as they celebrated a wedding. The entire village would congregate in the morning, and the music began to play in the square. Villagers waited in front of the brides home, then when she entered the square a long procession lined up to escort the bride to the church. First the alter boys holding the cross, followed by the priests, music, and the people. Last would be the bride dressed in white, with a flowered wreath on her head, her hair flowing across her back – on the arm of her Papa. On the path to the church flowers would blend with happiness as small girls dropped pedals onto the path where the bride would walk. In front of the church stood her husband who watched as his bride kissed her Papa good bye.
Most of the village attended these ceremonies in Sicily, were planned events from one family to another so the Papa was happy, his daughter would be treated in the manner of respect. The couple now leaves the church and becomes the leader of the procession, with a band in front of them. They returned to the square where food from villagers; macaroni, fish, artichokes, beans, bread, and a sponge cake would be spread out on tables. The wedding band began, and everyone danced until the sun set over the sea, but the band moved from one part of the square to another and continued playing as usual beneath a red flowering pomegranate tree. Young women choose not to marry in the month of June, because of the prayers for no rain and good buds to remain on the olive branch, the land was burnt, and gritty – the color of pink blossoms from the oleander shrub would be scattered here and there. It was more important to pray, than to marry.
The women of the village performed most of the duties of the men except for cooking or baking. They baked bread each morning, and caught the peddlers who walked from the sea with fish to talk them down in price, for some bread called, cuddura, a long loaf made with hard wheat. Today we would be eating this with brochette. Everything remained normal until grant land ownership came to a stop when societies were formed to do away with the rich landlord – In America they became known as the Mafia.
Small villages in Sicily were not quiet places; doors were left open and hens would make their way inside. In the distance, early in the morning you would hear a faint cry as men and boys worked the fields. And women giving birth must have echoed from house to house, houses without windows, with shutters opened and a voice wailing like the men in the field cutting wheat, begging like the beggars in the street, for it to be over. Women, blending with the sound of the peddlers shouting, “Fish here, fish!” Pushing their carts filled with a night’s recent catch; and the women, pushed too. As she did when my grandfather was born, hens passed through the open door to lay eggs; Santa, her long black hair sweeping across the bed clothes, gazed into the eyes of her son, Giovanni. Francisco must have told her, “Your work is done for today.” And, with a smile Francisco left for the day to climb a mountain, and work the field.
Santa, Francisco’s wife, my great grandmother, was born, and remained in Aquaficara. She married my great grandfather, and in this home she gave birth to three children; Giovanni, my grandfather, Giuseppe, and Carmella Duci.