I have been away from my blog because of a wonderful 2 week trip to Sicily and the Puglia region of southeast Italy- on the heel of the boot. To say the trip was amazing is an understatement. Sicily is a land of amazing beauty with small villages and even larger cities perched on the tops of mountains and hills. Mt. Etna is in the background of many cities sending it’s daily smoke and steam into the air as a warning that an eruption could happen soon but rarely does.
We visited ancient Greek ruins, so old it’s hard to imagine the 7th and 8th century BC still showing in beautiful theaters, temples and other buildings. Sicily in particular and Italy in general is a melting pot- the land of the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, Turks and others who in century after century conquered and left behind different cultures and people of different heritages.
Our guides were amazing scholars and historians who knew this wonderful history and shared it with us as we toured castles, theaters, middle-ages hunting lodges ( castles of sorts), Roman temples, cities built with conical shaped roofs of the trulli in Alborobello and the Sassi built into cliffs and rocks of Matera and then Romanesque towns and villages ( Lecce) and volcano craters ( Taormina). The amazing ancient and more modern ( middle-ages to 18th century) churches were full of relics ( yes, real bones of saints and martyrs), beautiful mosaics, statues, columns, nitches and chapels, high wooden ceilings ( one made of papier maché) and other religious ornaments and details.
Among all of these were several UNESCO World Heritage sites and others to be named soon.
The gnarled ancient Olive trees, the cactus plants, snails that grow on stems, beautiful wild flowers and unusual varieties of pines and birch trees along with Italian oak trees lined the streets and countryside. Pistachio nuts, pine nuts, olives, almonds, grapes, walnuts and prickley pears grow copiously along with the the usual vegetables. Orange and lemon trees were found in ancient ruins as well as hotel courtyards. The seaside towns were very beautiful and spoke also of ancient historical battles and discovery by other cultures. We discovered beautiful ceramics, linens, pottery, leather goods and art of the area that took its’ toll on our charge cards.
A group of 3 couples, friends who have traveled together on other European adventures, felt comfortable walking in the wide and very narrow streets and squares. Ristorantes, shops, trattoria, hotels and historical markers captured our attention. As in all of Italy, the food was served beautifully- much pasta, seafood, unusual combinations of spices and sauces, gelato, olives, cheeses, meats and cannoli filled us up and treated our taste buds to new sensations. And the wine- locally grown and served everywhere for lunch and dinner and in between. Italians love their wine. And so did we.
Since it is widely known that Sicily is the island of the Mafia, we asked questions about it and got a uniform response. The Mafia was much more of a violent and threatening force during the days of the 1920s and 1930s during the times of Victor Corleone who was made famous by the Godfather movies. Near Taormina, the town of Corleone exists but that is not where the movie was filmed. We saw the small village of Sacova perched high up on a hillside on our way back from our trip to Mt. Etna, where our guide told us the movie was filmed. There are even organized Godfather tours which we did not take.
Today the mafia appears to be more involved in politics and with business and corporate deals according to our guides. They are not seen and there are not shootings and other awful incidents associated with the earlier version of the mafia.
We know about the violence of the mafia from our own history when Al Capone was exacting revenge and carrying out “business” deals at the end of a gun barrel. Many lives were taken, even of close family members, to keep it in the family and seize power and control
Such is the case with guns. They make seizing power and control much easier and many wars have been fought to that end. In America, we have daily shootings, many domestic in nature, that are about control. The men ( and it is mostly men) who shoot spouses, girlfriends, significant others and family members do so out of anger and the need for control. Such was the case when my sister was shot by her estranged husband.
October is domestic violence awareness month. Many daily shootings in America are domestic in nature and often police officers get caught in the middle. Two such recent incidents that happened while I was traveling are reminders of the danger of domestic abusers with guns. One in Boston killed two officers. A recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes the danger of guns for domestic abusers.
If only our elected leaders would also recognize that we would be a much safer country and our families would suffer less devastation if we enacted stronger laws such as those in place in most other countries in the world. One of our guides was a scholar of the American constitution and knew a lot about the second amendment and the influence of the corporate gun lobby on our gun laws. He was astounded that we could not pass laws to keep guns away from people who should not have them. Recent police shootings were also something of concern to this guide and other Italians as they watch in concern and horror as young black men are shot by officers.
We have a problem not seen in most other democratized countries not at war.
In Italy, one must be licensed to own a gun and the gun must be registered. In addition, few people are allowed to carry guns outside of the home.
Back in the USA, the violence and carnage continues unabated in most places except for states that have passed strong gun laws. Political leaders and candidates are not running from the issue of guns and gun violence in this election though and the majority of Americans are beginning to use their voices to seize control of the violence. Americans have said in polls over many years that at the least, they want every gun buyer to go through a Brady background check.
We are on the rim of of the volcano of gun violence and need to get off to safety before more people are injured or killed by the eruptions.
As I reflect back on my wonderful trip, I realize that I was away from the daily news of shooting. The news in Italy was about Donald Trump and worry that he could actually be elected President of our country. One guide mentioned to us that Taormina in Sicily will be the sight of the G7 conference next May. We all hoped it would be President Hillary Clinton representing the USA at the conference. There is much worry in Italy about the American election and the recent video released about Trump’s sexual assaults. Italians are watching carefully. The second debate ran on Italian TV and the news was on the front page of all of the papers there.
Trump’s talk about a rigged election is leading to worry about actual violence on election day and afterwords. His failure to reign in the violent talk and false statements and insinuations about about Hillary’s views on guns and jailing her if he was elected is causing armed citizens to strap on their assault rifles and intimidate Democrat campaign headquarters in several places. ( And, oh yes, this is legal)This is not how elections work in America. The transfer of power does not happen at the end of a gun barrel.
What has happened to civility and common sense? It’s unsettling to read the news while traveling outside of the country and realize that the rest of the world is afraid of a major candidate for President because they don’t what it will mean for world stability and peace.
So as we move towards the election, we must all stand up for what is right and against the lies and hysteria that have not been seen in previous American elections. We all know that elections can be brutal but this time around, there is something very wrong. We all need this to be over and move on to governing a country full of citizens from all over the world who want to live an American dream that does not involved violence, intolerance, hatred, discrimination, racism, sexual assaults, talk of women’s private parts, terrorism, white supremacists, armed citizens patrolling the streets looking for something that has been hyped up by a candidate whose increasingly bizarre behavior should be a serious red flag to all of us.
We have work to do and it will take a while to recover from the ugliness of this campaign. Meanwhile, I have my memories of a trip to a beautiful and mostly peaceful part of the world. It wasn’t always so and the history of violence perpetrated by Italian rulers, most especially Mussolini, is not forgotten by Italians. But what they don’t have is gun violence. That’s an American thing and something about which we should not be proud.
Ciao for now.
More photos below: