When I lived in Rome, I often heard about how drastically Italy’s various regions differ from one other. I am so glad I had to opportunity to get out of Rome and experience this for myself. During my second year at John Cabot University, I was invited by my friend Maria to visit her family for their annual celebration of Carnevale.
Stepping off the plane at the Palermo airport, I was not exactly sure what to expect. In fact, I hadn’t even really put much thought into the place I was visiting… after all, it had only been a 50-minute flight and I was still in Italy…how different could it possibly be? Little did I know that by the end of my weekend spent all over the region of Agrigento on the southwestern coast of Sicily, my answer would be “very different.”
The first thing I noticed was how fresh the air smelled; the second—the scenery around me. To my left stood the great lushly covered mountains, and to my right the beautiful blue, clear waters of the Mediterranean. I was overcome with peace.
Driving up to the somewhat disheveled farmhouse took about two hours from Palermo. From this point forward I could truly say that Sicily was not “my” Italy: the Italy I know and love, the Italy I had been living in for the past two years. No, Sicily was different. I did not recognize any familiar cobblestone streets or hear the Roman slang I was so used to, but rather I encountered an entirely different Italy. I discovered an Italy of endless rolling green hills, of loud Sicilian family members gathered around a table, all shouting lovingly in their dialect while quickly polishing off course after course. This new Italy was staring out of a window and seeing nothing but nature; smelling nothing but grass; and hearing nothing but the crackling of the fireplace, the warmest part of the stony farmhouse.
As we drove through the hills, I continuously stared out the window, not only because I began to feel more and more nauseous as my body slid from side to side in the backseat of the small Fiat with each and every curve of the road, but because I was so mesmerized by the vast openness of what was before me. Andrea Boccelli’s “Vivere” blared through the speakers. We were on the way to Carnevale.
A celebration dating back to the 13th century, Carnevale has roots that lie in ancient festivals celebrated by the Romans and even the ancient Egyptians. The festivals are celebrated during the week before the beginning of Lent all over Italy. In the town of Sciacca, where we were headed, the highlight of the festival is a parade of bizarre figures mounted on floats, famous throughout all of Sicily for their gaudy expressions.
Children, adults, the elderly, and everyone in between were dressed up for the occasion: brightly colored wigs carelessly thrown on, feather boas, light-up ears, face paint, and a lot of glitter. There was little to no sense in the costumes people chose to dress in, which mostly consisted of mismatched clothing and flamboyant accessories. Giant floats driven by tractors paraded through the center of town, each portraying a different theme or message.
When you live in Rome, it’s easy to stick to your routine and spend your free time exploring the endless streets and ruins of the Eternal City. But I would encourage any John Cabot student to take a few weekends to travel–not just the major European capitals, but around Italy, your new adopted home! Get out there, book a flight, and explore all the different regions, foods, and cultures that this wonderful country of Italy as to offer!
Alexa (Shearer) Vujaklija
Class of 2015
Grew up in The United States, Germany, The Republic of Georgia, Russia, and Bulgaria