Tag Archives: Culture

Sigonella Directory

The Cinquecento Project wants to pay it forward to incoming military and civilians to Naval Air Station Sigonella. I started the blog in part because of the dearth of information available as I attempted to plan for my transition to Sicily and the lifestyle of an OCONUS military spouse. Ha! I didn’t even know what OCONUS meant until I was over here for a few months. Check out the acronyms section below if you aren’t in that loop yet.

To help anyone who just wants to get information about Sigonella without wading through my more personalized posts, I culled my posts for the following information. Of course, since there is no typical military spouse, even my Sigonella-specific posts are somewhat personalized. I attempted to organize it into useful categories. If you have a question I haven’t answered, post a question in the comments and I will spend the second half of my time in Sigonella to fill in the gaps, as I can. I always have an eye to OPSEC, so I may not be willing to post all of the information you are seeking.

No matter who you are or where you are coming from, you can find a place for yourself in Sigonella; all it takes is a positive attitude and a willingness to be open to new cultures and experiences. Lean into the discomfort for your first six months and lickety-split, you will be assimilated and loving la vita dolce in Sicily!

Cinquecento Project Posts:

– Basics about living in Sicily
– Basics about NASSIG Amenities
– Getting Around
– What to do/Where to go…
…on Sicily
…in Italy
…in Europe
…in Europe and Asia
…in Asia
– Acronyms
– Italian Words

Sister and Brother Sicily Blogs:

Sicily Ciao

Basics about living in Sicily

– if you are a civilian or military spouse interested in working or furthering your career in Sigonella, check out In Gear Career Sigonella Chapter

– summers are hot, the sun is relentless

the best oranges of your life (unless you are from a citrus hometown)

– be aware of Ferragosto: business grinds to a halt for the month of August; August is the month of vacation for all Italians and many from the north come to Sicily for the beaches

– Sicilians smoke and they don’t hide in corners the way smokers in the U.S. do

horse meat is enjoyed, donkey meat is a delicacy

– Sicilians take International Women’s Day seriously!

avoid McDonald’s

Leroy Merlin

– Trucker’s strikes (“sciopero” is the Italian word for strike) can be empty threats, or they can be very real and cause long lines at gas stations (no truckers to deliver more gas), and traffic jams due to protests at the toll booth, and more consequences: Here are my posts about the most intense strike in order 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

gelato; gelato; gelato; granite; gelato

– military spouses do it all with resiliency

eat figs, mmmm

– Poste Italiane, pay your parking tickets here (you can pay for a parking ticket at any post office in Italy, it does not need to be in the same city where you received the ticket)

– you may be in temporary lodging for 56 days

– Eat a granite and brioche for breakfast and feel Sicilian

Military Members and pets

– Fall in love with Mt. Etna, and eruptions, eruptions, more eruptions, Mt. Etna webcam, and another, Mt. Etna smoking, Mt. Etna ash

bonfires and fireworks for festivals and any celebratory occasion

– Permesso di Soggiorno, or Sojourner’s Permit: go to legal, apply for it, then forget it (unless you are taking a trip that requires it)…just don’t stress out about it, if you know you *need* it, call back to the office; if not, just relax and use your no-fee passport and visa and chill out; if you must, carry the letter that you applied for your Sojourner’s permit with you when you travel

shopping, Ikea, more shopping

– history is all around you(!!!): stories from the Odyssey

Geep!

– things burning on the side of the road should not alarm you during dry season

– don’t be surprised if you consider decorating with wine barrels

Basics about NASSIG amenities


Base Living

Yes, we have a Commissary, and a Navy Exchange, as well as Navy Federal Credit Union and a Community Bank (government contracted bank on base, operated by Bank of America, runs on 10-year contracts, renewed recently (~2013)), there is an autoport (although many car-guys trust Mario, who runs a garage across from Marinai), dry-cleaning is available on base, there is a laundromat, barber shop, flower shop, hospital, 2-screen movie theater, bowling alley, skateboard park, and more! Also, remember that Sicily is beautiful and you have to learn to overlook a bit of trash here and there (cuz littering is a thing here).

Tips for Adjusting

Postal System: with a few key tips in mind, you can have a lovely time in Sicily, receiving regular mail. Tips: Tip #1 – inform your creditors of your new address and always have an email back-up; you will NOT receive bills ahead of time, so do not rely on a paper document to remind you to pay your bills, PLAN AHEAD for this…schedule a regular payment, or pre-pay, or mark your calendar and call and ask how much the bill is when you know it has been issued…whatever it is, don’t rely on a paper bill showing up in the mail; Tip #2 – let your friends and family know that (a) a 1st-class stamp is all they need to get an envelope to you (under 1 ounce), (b) use Priority and the package will reach you in about 6-12 days, (c) if they use media rate or standard (fka Parcel Post) the package will take up to 3 months to reach Sigonella; Tip #3 pay attention to the shipping method when you purchase goods online, if the arrival is important to you, ALWAYS, always, always choose Priority! – the vendor cannot provide overnight service due to the distance (so it isn’t worth paying for it), and Priority will almost always get it here in two weeks or less; if the vendor uses FedEx or UPS, I recommend you (a) find an alternate vendor, (b) use a service like APObox, (c) negotiate with the vendor to use USPS for delivery, or (d) ship to a friend/family US address and have them use USPS for delivery. This is important because the companies who have contracts with UPS, DHL, FedEx or any other private carrier will revert to the slowest USPS method if they even offer service to the APO/FPO address, which means up to 3 months delivery time to Sigonella.

Gym: As of this writing, the gym on NAS I is much nicer, although both have their ups and downs. If you prefer the gym on NAS I, put your name immediately on the wait list for a locker, it may take 2-8 months for you to get a locker. The pool is at the NAS I gym, although there is a current project to restore the pool on NAS II. NAS II has sand volleyball courts. Both NAS I and NAS II have fields. NAS I has a track (behind the school). Both gyms have machines for cardio and weights; NAS I has classrooms for group exercises (yoga, pilates, zumba, etc). They also put together the Base 2 Base series, a group of runs that feels very much like home to any runners out there, I started with the POW/MIA run.

Housing:
Inspection
your dryer might be outdoors
you will sign five original leases (wait, which one is the original?)
– your bathtub and shower will be different sizes than you are used to
Base Housing, the majority of base housing is in Marinai (scroll to third photo on link)

Indoc: When you arrive on island, I recommend sitting through the indoctrination class the base provides you. Many of you will opt out, feeling that your time could be better spent exploring on your own; however, I regularly use knowledge I gained in indoc and colleagues and friends often say “How did you know that?” and I answer, “From indoc.” At the very least, I encourage you to participate in the InterCultural Relations (ICR) portion, which provides you survival Italian resources, a chance to step into the community with a guide, and information about ordering food from Italian vendors (e.g. “I want a pound of sliced provolone” does not compute with Sicilian vendors, and believe me, you want to buy their provolone!).

Library: There is a great OCONUS library system, complete with interlibrary loan, an NKO loaning library (your sponsor will have to get you registered unless you have a CAC), a coffee shop, friendly and knowledgable librarians, about 20 desktop computers for community use, study tables and carrels, a decent dvd section, ample travel book and travel dvd collections and strong wi-fi.

Getting Around

Driving

My philosophy on driving in Sicily
Telepass – get it if you live north of the toll line, it’s worth it!!! Traffic jams can be killer…, but just like getting back on a horse you gotta get back on that freeway

Ferries

Flying
The major airport for eastern Sicily is in Catania (CTA) and is named Fontanarossa, which means “red fountain.” Space A from Sigonella can get you to Norfolk, via Rota, Spain. Or, in the other direction, you can get to Souda Bay, which is on Crete (an island of Greece).

There are also some regional routes that offer affordable prices if you fly through the Trapani or Palermo airports.

What to Do/Where to Go…
…on Sicily

Acireale Carnevale

Aeolian Islands: Milazzo to Lipari, Canneto beach (views of Panarea and Stromboli), best cannolo ever, Vulcano,

Agrigento
Valley of the Temples
Turkish Steps
Bagliesi Winery

Caleca Ceramics Factory, Caleca Ceramiche – near Patti, Sicily

Caltagirone

Catania Bellini Opera House

Catania Fish Market

La Caverna in Acireale

Cefalù: home of the annual international gelato festival, I went twice so far.

Gambino Winery – a winery run by a warm Sicilian family, with delicious wines, a great tasting room, and ample hospitality – enjoy!

Locanda COS near Ragusa

Ortigia

Ottobrata in Zafferana – this is a huge Sicilian festival, and it runs strong for each weekend in October, when the mountain town of Zafferana features a different Sicilian specialty each weekend. Go early and make sure you leave before dark to avoid 2-hour long lines leaving Zafferana

Shalai – this spa and fine-dining restaurant in Linguaglossa is amazing!

Siracusa

Snowshoeing on Mt. Etna

…in Italy

Amalfi Coast; we flew in and rented a car in Naples to visit Pompei and the Amalfi Coast, enjoying lovely sunsets, too

Lago di Garda, you don’t have to run the marathon, though

Milan, meandering

Roma – a favorite of mine, enjoyable as a couple, with parents, or even just an overnight on your way someplace else…

Tuscany, we had a great trip there with friends in 2011, good food,

…in Europe

Amsterdam, and eat bandeja paisa

Barcelona, mmmm eat at Escriba

Brugge, Belgium

Estonia, culture abounds, Tartu, scroll to the wall drawing

Geneva, Switzerland, we had a fabulous time in this expensive city; plenty to see and do and eat and shop (if that’s your thing), great opportunities for day trip to the mountains for a hike (though we did not fit that into this trip)

…in Europe and Asia

Istanbul, Turkey
cay, ayran, kunefe, Topkapi, menemen, nar suyu, commentary

…in Asia

Taiwan
Taipei, guava and popcorn, Taiwanese junk food, European style bakeries, Mr. Cheeseburger Face Man, cute kids, Zelda and Taroko Gorge
Lyudao, Lyudao (Green Island), Lyudao II, and more Lyudao

Acronyms

CAC: Computer Access Card
CONUS: Continental United States
NASSIG: Naval Air Station Sigonella
NKO: Navy Knowledge Online
OCONUS: Outside the Continental United States
Space A: Space Available (access to open spaces on military flights)

Italian Words:

antipasto/antipasti: appetizers; traditional Italian antipasto plate usually has cured meats, cheese, olives, and maybe some local specialties such as sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, etc.

AutoGrill: restaurant and bar on the autostrada, always has interesting tchotchkes, free bathrooms, fresh panino, and nutella

bar: a coffee shop; usually you order at the cashier, get a receipt and take the receipt to the coffee bar where the barrista will make your coffee drink

Caprese salad: tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil (for some reason, the majority of places that serve the Caprese around Sigonella do not always include basil)

colazione: breakfast

Family words

Greetings: Buon giorno, salve, ciao, buona sera

mare: sea (signs saying “mare” indicate if you follow them, you will be led to the seaside)

panetteria: bread shop

riposo: rest; this is the Italian version of the Spanish “siesta” period; logistically, this is the time when shops close for the hottest part of the day, and gives Italians time to be with family before returning to work for another 4-5 hours; riposo period is very real in Sicily and you will notice changes in traffic and many shops will be closed; there are more malls and large stores that are staying open straight through riposo; just check the schedule of a store to avoid any frustration

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What I love about TPE

First of all, Taiwan’s largest airport (TPE) essentially has three beautiful names:

Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport

台湾桃园国际机场 (traditional: 臺灣桃園國際機場)

Táiwān Táoyuán Gúojì Jīchǎng*

*(for non-pinyin readers, this third name is in pinyin, which phonetically spells words using a system of accents that conveys the four to five vowel intonations that gives Mandarin Chinese its very lyrical and incredibly difficult-to-learn reputations).

The airport was a welcome spot to land after my 24-hour journey to Taipei from Catania (CTA) (the return trip took 30 hours). It was easy to navigate and it welcomed me to Taiwan in my own language.

This guy also provided a cute welcome.

On the return trip, I started out by exploring the TPE gates. There was a delightful educational display about Taiwan’s natural resources. It was right next to a series of Prayer Rooms. During my journey to and from Taipei, I encountered Camel sponsored smoking rooms (thanks a-freakin-lot Germany), Chinese tourism posters like this one,

Postal Logistics headrest sponsors (“Go Postal!”),

and all variety of multicultural combinations of food in my airplane meals (e.g., veggie rice stir fry, bread and Irish butter, fresh melon, Chinese beer, and a Tiramisu to finish).

Yet, Taipei was the only airport where I noticed the Prayer Rooms. There were symbols above each doorway indicating which faith was appropriate to which room. The Hindi and Muslim rooms requested removal of shoes, and the Christian room requested silence. Though not religious myself, I really like the idea of prayer room and I wished there had been a non-denominational/non-religious room for quiet contemplation. While I would be comfortable using any of the rooms for that purpose, at times I pause in order to respect those using them for the stated purpose. This desire to display respect (although nobody was around) extended to my reluctance to snap a photo.

However, I did not feel the same reluctance when it came to documenting the translation of the education series. The series of displays, like this one, prepared me for more quiet contemplation.

First, I contemplated spatial relationships.

Second, I contemplated translation choices.
“Its special gorge scene…leaves people all the gasps when they see it…” I thought that was a beautiful way to say it leaves people breathless.

Then, I contemplated the joy and delight of making crayon scrapings. I would not have noticed but nearly ALL the Taiwanese adults were having a great time making the scrapings. Never one to turn down an opportunity for simple joy, I wandered over to take a peek.


This German guy was peeking, too; he started scoffing, I hustled up to the table for my turn!

Here are examples of the carvings.

All European scoffing aside, I had a great time!

I remembered my trip to Taroko Gorge.

What? YOU don’t remember that trip? Oh yea, I haven’t blogged about it yet…

Then, I ventured to Taipei 101 and Sun Moon Lake – two destinations that didn’t fit into my itinerary (hey, family comes first!)

The thoughtfulness, cute factor and love of play evident in my short stint at the TPE airport reaffirmed all I had learned about Taiwanese culture.

Well, perhaps it confirmed what little I had been able to glean in a few weeks of light research and one week of trying to tap into the culture – that the Taiwanese are not only intelligent and resourceful, but they tend to live a life based in the principles of gratitude and graciousness. Gratitude for this very moment, and graciousness to the person next to you. It is a noble and exemplary way to participate in life. Xie xie, Taiwan.

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Acireale Carnevale

Cinquecento

Buon lunedi, tutti!

Acireale hosts a fabulous Carnevale festival, second in Italy only to Venezia (that’s Venice). The festival carries over many days and the culmination is the parade of floats. These are not the ho-hum floats you made for homecoming. The Acireale Carnevale floats are works of engineering, design and art. Tens of craftspeople come together to achieve the dramatic satires on display this weekend in Acireale. While I was busy admiring the work, trying to understand the message and oftentimes puzzling the musical accompaniment choices, I snapped a few photos to share with you.

The themes tend to be political satire and Berlusconi, Monti, Sarkozy, Merkel, and Obama had significant coverage. Facebook even had a starring role on one float.

The traditional flower-based designs were stunning and stunningly detailed.

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Many other floats were more modern an had moving parts, light and music effects, and caricatured features.

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The entire event is very Italian! I was set up near a nut stand that was constantly on the verge of selling out of freshly roasted chestnuts. The crowd was boisterous and busy, without any order to it at all, and yet created a pleasant atmosphere of familial enjoyment. Some people were drinking, but the event lacked the overtly drunk idiots I have come to expect at comparable U.S. festival events. Even walking through the crowd was Italian, everything keeps moving and everyone is linked to a small Italian woman who you don’t want to run over, so it is manageable and courteous chaos, like much of Italian culture.

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Home Alone.

Cinquecento

Lost in Translation Theme – Gracious Sicilians Version

(Uno) 1. Our understanding landlord, Signor Messina. First and foremost for dealing with translation! Also – for being understanding about us drilling into ceramic tile that is basically the only thing he doesn’t want us to do in the house. We can drill into the concrete walls all we want. He stopped by and saw our new bathroom fixture and was a little upset.

(Due) 2. [Switch to our awesome rental agent, Salvo.] I called Salvo after the conversation about the fixtures because I wanted to make sure we all understood each other. Salvo grew up in Australia from 2-12 years old, and his English and Italian/Sicilian are near-perfect.

(Tre) 3. [Back to Signor Messina.] I called to let him know we ran out of gas in our Bombola (we are not on city gas…yet! By next year we should be). Um…I had a new Bombola an hour later. And, a spare delivered today so we have backup.

(Quattro) 4. [Skip to the nice folks at Parco Avventura] A kind gentleman stayed with me through my very basic Italian to settle up on our reservations for a ropes course over the weekend. It should be a great time.

(Cinque) 5. [Wrapping it up back with Signor Messina.] He is wonderful. This is already the best landlord relationship I can think of (other than my parents in between places – thanks Mom!). We’ve been invited for dinner and to a card party around the holidays, Signor Messina keeps telling me he is happy that Dave and I are the ones renting his condo. It is such a brilliant compliment – warm and encouraging while simultaneously creating a desire in me to live up to his expectations of us.

Cento

The time has come – Home Alone time!!! I listened to the soundtrack yesterday. Yes, that’s right. I own a cd version (pre-iTunes!) of the soundtrack to Home Alone. Apparently, Dave was in Afghanistan last year when Home Alone fever hit me, (about six days later than this year’s infection); he was oblivious to the soundtrack. It is a great soundtrack, lacking a few songs that probably just cost too much to include (ahem, Bing Crosby estate, ease up on the royalty demands!). To the former John Hughes, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for this masterpiece of family cinema.

Source

Ah, yes. This picture combines my love of the Midwest, Home Alone, my home state (Wisconsin!), and the iconic Wienermobile (Oscar Mayer hotdogs originated in Madison, Wisconsin. I have met Oscar Mayer himself (now with John Hughes in the afterlife – have fun guys!)).

Happy Home Alone Season!!!

p.s. Dave Chapelle is basically a genius and you should watch the Wrap It Up link above.

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Is Ryan Gosling Cuter than a Puppy? (Hint, mostly yes.)

Cinquecento

(Uno) 1. Nursing my cold with buckwheat pumpkin pancakes. Yep, I have an official Sicilian cold. Boo-hoo, breathing is harder, but otherwise life is pretty much the same.

(Due) 2. Snuggling into the couch without remorse. The day was overcast and rainy – and I was under the weather myself – reading, internet-ing and movie-watching were just what the doctor ordered!

(Tre) 3. Finding “Is Ryan Gosling Cuter than a Puppy?“. Go forth and enjoy.

(Quattro) 4. A long hot bath in our Italian bathtub. It is very deep and rather narrow. I love it. Our hot water heater can get quite hot when we’re doing dishes, but Dave and I have each struggled to get our bathwater to get that hot. Tonight I ran the water at low pressure on the highest setting…and – Victory! HOT bathwater. It makes sense because I obviously run the water at low pressure when washing dishes. (If you’re curious, the tub is 20″ across, 45″ long at the deepest point, 55″long at the first top layer, and 60” long the layer above that).

(Cinque) 5. Turned the heat on! This was a bittersweet moment for me. I always try to conserve energy, so I withstand the cooler temperatures as long as possible, but I cracked today (bitter). We limited it to the radiator in the living room and closed off the room and it was worth it (sweet).

Cento

Is energy consumption cultural? I am an energy snob – everyone I know could get by on least 20% less energy. Time and again in the Sigonella community, I have heard people praise the base-provided housing because you can “blast the A/C” and “leave the lights on without worrying [about the bill]” and I can only imagine the ongoing water waste! It seems so irresponsible – not only is it ignorant about who pays the cost (OUR taxes/U.S. government), but it is also ignorant of finite natural resources. I am confused by such destructive behaviors. Is this cultural or is it just me?

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Berlusconi, Berlusconi

Source.

Wow – there is so much going on in the world at large that sometimes I have to take my head out of the Sicilian sand (a.k.a. lava rock, ancient ruins and temples) and realize that according to contemporary media, Italy is on the verge of financial collapse.

And, then, I look around me and realize that there is a 3-day gas strike going on, too. Yep, no fuel sales for three days (except the Agip by the base today) – unless my interpretations are incorrect and the strike is next week. This is completely possible because Italians (and many Europeans) plan strikes ahead of time. The goal is to cause enough discomfort that complaints reach high up, but not to inconvenience the everyman (who is the hero of the strike, after all).

The La Repubblica article I link to (in English!) writes the tale of the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde character Berlusconi has always been – balancing his personal financial interests with Italy’s financial interests. But is that a balance that can actually be achieved? Perhaps not, as indications abound that Berlusconi may finally step down.

Here at the Cinquecento Project, Berlusconi has been a symbol of the enigmatic Italian people. The people whose artistic essences and poetic souls created the conglomeration of villages and regions into this great nation we know as Italy. Like Berlusconi, Italians are known for being outrageous in completely contradictory terms. Women are known for holding the family together – dinner at Mama’s; yet boys are the uncontested darlings of Italian society and Italians have their own brand of machismo. Forward thinking and open talk are pillars of the warm and expressive Italian society; yet the dominant Catholic religion maintains strict norms on social behaviors (that are largely believed, if loosening in response to economic demands on families).

While Berlusconi has mirrored the enigma of the Italian people, he has largely inspired mild disgust in me. I turn my nose and then I turn my head. I do not vote in Italy. While I am interested in world politics, I have little interest in dissecting or critiquing Berlusconi’s actions, because I can only gauge them against my values and social norms. And, my values and social norms are decidedly not Italian. Well, not yet.

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Jilbo Baggins

Cinquecento

Theme day!

Five favorite Sicilian idiosyncrasies.

Uno (1). “Va bene.” This is pretty much Italian, and not limited to Sicily. However, I’m experiencing it here the most, so you get what you get from me. “Va bene” means “okay” for all intents and purposes, or “it’s going well/it goes well” if you want to get into a literal translation. I hear it ALL The time, and I love it.

Due (2). Focusing on the chile pepper as a symbol, but not really using it in your food. Yep, Sicilians aren’t known for spicy food. It *can* be spicy, but it isn’t really a food trait the way it is in Thailand or Mexico. You know, the other places where chile peppers are prominent parts of culture.

Tre (3). The cornetto – or “horn.” This can be the shape of the chile pepper (loose translation), the symbol your hand creates when you tuck your thumb and middle two fingers into your palm and then raise your index and pinkie fingers (note – there is another name for this and please use this gesture with caution!!!), OR, it can be a delicious pastry (i.e. croissant).

Quattro (4). Unpredictability. If you didn’t grasp that theme from the previous idiosyncrasies, I’m bringing it front and center now. No matter what you think you know about Sicilian food, driving, culture, formalities, informalities, style, shop hours, anything — you can easily find an experience that obliterates the rule you thought applied.

Cinque (5). Warmth and hospitality. The unending theme with the unbroken rule is that of a willingness to accept newcomers and endure poor language skills from foreigners. Heck, it’s right there in the history of the island, and it holds true today. In so many other cultures, there is mistrust or even suspicion and disdain expressed toward outsiders, and there is a dosage of that here, but it is by far the least prevalent attitude I have experienced.

Bella Sicilia!

Cento – as they say a picture is worth a thousand words and I was quite verbose in the “cinque” portion, I will leave you with this lovely photo, today. Looking forward to catching up with you tomorrow, leave me some comments about what you’d like to read about and see in photos on the blog and I’ll do my best to comply. Oh yes, and if you are scratching your head at the blogpost title, just put your mind grapes onto the Lord of the Rings trilogy. A truly geeky and great friend of mine let loose with Jilbo Baggins after LOTR became socially acceptable. Ha ha, love you Mike!

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