Moments in Time

I been unable to post on My Bella Sicily for a while due to my caregiving duties for my 87 year old mother who struggled from a stroke and subsequently died October 9th. I have been blessed to have my mother and father live into their late 80’s. My dad turns 89 this September. Grief comes in waves and degrees. I miss my mother dearly, but take solace that she no longer suffers and is dancing on the streets of gold. My mother died nine days before my birthday, then came Thanksgiving and Christmas. I won’t lie,  it was difficult. Some days are better than others, but I made it though the toughest “firsts” right out of the gate. I cannot help but think October will never be the same for me and my family. Fortunately, I have many wonderful October memories to draw strength from, such as reuniting with my Sicilian family after 100 years.

My first visit to Sicily was October 8, 2014 with seven of my cousins. Our grandmothers were sisters and they had lost contact with their Sicilian family in 1915 after the death of their father. We were fulfilling their dream (and ours) to connect with our Sicilian roots. As we approached the Palermo airport, I was in awe at the deep emerald blue sea, it was breathtakingly beautiful.  I could see for what seemed like a hundred miles. The Madonie Mountain range clearly in view. I was fired-up to put my feet on the ground, but wanted to remember this moment in time for the rest of my life; I felt the love of my grandmother and great grandparents with me on this journey.

My first visit to Sicily was absolutely life-changing on so many levels. I’ve written about the beautiful family reunion with our Sicilian cousins in a previous blog post. When the anniversary of my mother’s death comes this October, I am so thankful I can recall many happier moments of her, and also think of Sicily.

A visit to Sicily will capture your heart forever. Create your moment in time with a visit to Sicily. There are so many wonderful sights to see, delicious cuisine to enjoy, history to absorb, and amazing things to do. Travel is more affordable than ever and you may even connect with your family. Check out my friends, Alfred Zappala and Eszter Vajda, at You, Me & Sicily to learn about their small custom tour options in 2018.


Sicilian Marionettes

Located on the outskirts of Partinico, Palermo, Sicily, you will find la Real Cantina Borbonica an extraordinary building commissioned in 1800 as a winery by Ferdinand I, King of the Two Sicilies. Today the building is primarily used as a museum of historical, cultural and agricultural traditions, and for special events, like weddings, concerts and banquets. It’s also home to marionette theater.

A marionette is a puppet controlled from above the stage using wires or strings. A marionette’s puppeteer is called a marionettist. Marionettes became popular in Sicily during the thirteenth century with the reign of Ferdinand II, and are considered an important part of the rich Sicilian folk culture. For centuries, young and old alike have enjoyed watching the reenactment of medieval characters and stories, such as Orlando (Roland), one of Charlemagne’s knights, the Norman knights of King Roger of Sicily, and the Saracens (Moors). There were historical families of marionnettists throughout western Sicily, such as the Greco of Palermo; and the Canino of Cinisi and Alcamo.

The Sicilian marionette theater Opera dei pupi was proclaimed in 2001 and inscribed in 2008 in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.

Sicilian Dreams

There are very few people living today who were part of the wave of migration from Sicily to America between the years 1900 – 1920’s. Research shows approximately 75% of Sicilian men who came for work in America never planned to stay permanently. They were nicknamed “Birds of Passage.” Sicilians who did settle left EVERYTHING they ever knew to follow their dreams of a better life in America. Contemplate leaving your home, family, culture, possessions, animals and property for the unknown – a land where you do not know the language or culture. This was years before the telephone and television, and decades before email and advanced communication like Skype, Messenger and Whats App.

Once in America, despite many challenges, Sicilian immigrants slowly adjusted to their new American lifestyle. They found jobs, married, purchased homes, had children and assimilated into their communities. Sadly, some immigrants never spoke about their life back in Sicily, too painful or difficult, various reasons. Those who did impart their stories and Sicilian traditions on to their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren passed on a great gift. I never met my great grandfather, Angelo Comito, but his passion for Sicily, family and education was passed on to his daughters – my grandmother and her sister – and they in turn passed it on to their descendants. We are the fulfillment of Angelo’s Sicilian Dreams.

Northern coast of Sicily

I first visited Sicily in 2014. Its unspoiled scenic beauty overwhelmed me. The fresh sea air is invigorating. Standing at the shoreline you can see the deepest and bluest water imaginable. The majestic Madonie mountain range in western Sicily offers miles and miles of elevations and patchwork green fields. Sunsets are a glimpse of heaven, allowing the soul to peacefully be restored.

A visit to beautiful Sicily will connect you to your roots and to who you are. See the villages of your ancestors. Enjoy authentic Sicilian cuisine and culture. You may be surprised to find living relatives like my cousins and I did. If you would like referrals to sources in Sicily, please contact me at . I do not make a dime, just happy to share information and my love for Sicily.

Ciao and grazie for visiting


The Babe of Bethlehem: A Sicilian Christmas Tradition


As we approach Advent and the Christmas season, many Americans begin their annual ritual of dragging out boxes of holiday decorations. One cannot experience this customary process without recalling memories of past festivities with family and friends.

My family follows typical American Christmas traditions with a twist of Italian/Sicilian customs. The focus is food, faith, and la famiglia – the family! Growing up, the heart of our home was my paternal grandmother. The daughter of Sicilian immigrants, my grandmother was only seven when her father died tragically in a factory fire. She was forced to grow up quickly and take on responsibility at a young age because her mother did not speak English. Despite disappointments and heartaches throughout her life, she maintained a great sense of humor and strong faith in God. She instilled in her loved ones the belief that far more valuable than the gifts we give or receive, the food we eat, or the extravagant adornments, Christmas is about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ – fully God and fully man – bringing joy, hope and love to the world.

One of my most cherished memories of Christmastime is watching my grandmother lovingly displaying a beautiful, but well-worn, nativity crib/crèche. The porcelain figurines of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the three wise men, and the shepherds wore clothes made of brightly colored silk-like material. As a child I was allowed to play with them, but carefully supervised. Little did I understand then the significance of the crèche to our Christian faith and especially the great importance the nativity crib represented to our Sicilian culture.


The history of the nativity crib dates back to Italy in 1223 with St. Francis of Assisi. To commemorate the birth of Christ, he created a living reenactment of the manger scene, complete with hay and oxen. St. Francis was so deeply moved by the scene he could barely utter a word. He could only say ‘the Babe of Bethlehem’. The nativity crib, or in Italian presepio or presepe, as it is known today, with three-dimensional statues using various materials such as wood, gold, silver, ivory and coral, is believed to have started in Sicily in the fifteenth century; probably because of their puppet craftsmanship. The Jesuits saw the nativity crib as an excellent teaching visual and the spread of Christianity grew throughout Europe. By the seventeenth century the tradition expanded to England. However, the Puritans in America banned the nativity crib, citing it as idolatry. Fortunately, as Europeans emigrated to America in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, they brought their Christmas traditions and customs with them, including the nativity crib and the Christmas tree. Now Americans of many faiths enjoy the season with these treasured traditions.

My grandmother died in 1977 and her cherished nativity crib has not been seen for years, but the life-giving message of the nativity crib still resonates. Often I reminisce about those simpler Christmas celebrations, when the emphasis of the season was on Christ who came to save us and less on Santa. This holy season, let’s rekindle in our hearts a desire to follow the star that leads to Jesus, the Babe of Bethlehem, who offers us His gifts of love, joy, and hope.

Buon Natale and a holy Christmas season.

(image credits:

Sicilian Heart and Soul


Yes, a Sicilian father is the head and protector of the family, but it’s the mother who is the heart and soul of the home. If you’ve ever doubted the great importance a mother holds in a family one only needs to contemplate the Italian proverb “If the father should die, the family would suffer; if the mother should die, the family ceases to exist.”

Sicilian women are passionately devoted to their family and fearless when faced with challenges. After two thousand years of Sicilian invasions, wars, plagues, monarchies, treaties, dominations, martyrs, crimes, and economic crisis, it takes a lot to rattle them…

Sicilian women work very hard to make a home and carry on traditions, including art, music, craftsmanship, agriculture, cooking, sewing, faith, family stories and history – they pass on their knowledge to their children and grandchildren in hopes they too will do the same, like their ancestors did before them.

My Sicilian grandmother instilled in me a love for my heritage and family. If you were blessed to have a Sicilian mother or grandmother, like I was, then you fully appreciate the heart and soul of a Sicilian home.

What’s so good about Good Friday?

Christians throughout the world are honoring Good Friday, one of the holiest days of the year leading up to Easter Sunday. In Italian, Good Friday is translated as Venerdì Santo or Sacred Friday and throughout Sicily there are dramatic processions reenacting his passion, death and resurrection. Worldwide there will be passion plays and Easter pageants, but sadly we are still living in a world where many Christians are being persecuted and killed for their faith.

This day represents when our Lord Jesus was tortured, mocked and ultimately crucified on a cross to die – the worst day in human history. So have you ever wondered why such a horrific day is called “Good” Friday (in the English language) when there’s nothing good about it? Maybe horrible Friday or devastating Friday, but certainly not “good.”


There are several theories why it’s known as Good Friday. The word “good” is from the word holy, or Good Friday is derived from “God’s Friday.” Personally, I believe it’s called Good Friday because it is the definitive reality that good conquered evil. Death could not hold the body of Jesus and he arose from the grave to a glorified body. Jesus conquered sin and death and gives us the pathway to eternal life, if we’re willing to accept him. Yet without his suffering we could not fully understand the power of His resurrection. He may not ask us to suffer and die a martyr’s death, but he asks each of us to share the love and mercy of Christ with ALL.

As humans we go through life-changing situations –depression or loneliness due to death of a loved one, even the fear of our own death; the loss of a job or finances, the reality our dreams may never happen; comprehending your aging body and fragile health, or struggling with an addictive behavior you cannot control.

There are no easy answers to our life challenges, but on this Good Friday, let’s try to reduce the distractions and “noise” of life for 15 minutes, and quiet our hearts to listen to the still small voice of our victorious Lord and Savior Jesus speaking to us and saying, “I love you. I forgive you. I conquered death, and if you trust me, I will see you through your difficult situation, too.”

Sicily – My Eyes Adored You

Sicily is much more than a wonderful island; it is paradise on earth! The famous German writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, once wrote: “To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.” For me, Sicily became a transforming experience. Reconnecting to the bonds of my Sicilian family has brought me closer to our rich and unique culture.

The first time I saw the beautiful island of Sicily was in October 2014 as our flight from Rome was descending into the Palermo Airport. We were flying at an altitude of about 2,000 feet and I began to see the Western Sicilian highlands, a glorious mountain range that spreads down the coast of Sicily with breathtaking views of patchwork fields of green. The Tyrrhenian Sea is an incredibly deep blue color – like an emerald blue – yet extremely clear. I don’t know what was more exciting, to witness the grandeur of God’s magnificent creation, or the realization I would soon be putting my feet down on the same ground my ancestors left when they immigrated to America in 1907.


We landed at the Falcone–Borsellino Airport just outside of Palermo. The airport is named in memory of the two leading anti-mafia judges, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who were murdered by the mafia in 1992. At the time I did not fully grasp how their murders impacted Sicilians. I came to understand the deaths of these two heroic leaders were as momentous to Sicilians as the assignation of JFK or the attacks on 9/11 are to Americans.

During this first visit I spent only a few short days in Sicily, but it was just enough time to experience magnificent sites, eat delicious cuisine, and tour two exceptional Sicilian wineries: Cusumano and Donnafugata. But the absolute highlight was discovering and reuniting with family, after ten decades apart. I felt incredibly sad to leave Sicily; like a part of my heart was being left behind. When I returned to Michigan I knew I would have to go back to Sicily. As the days went by I felt Sicily calling me and pulling me back, like the undertow of the ocean’s current.

Last April, with anticipated joy, I allowed the undertow to pull me back to Sicily. Again I experienced the beauty of flying into Palermo – seeing the triangular gem off the toe of Italy. What a sight! I had a wonderful time with my newly-found Sicilian cousins. They pampered and treated me to the very best Sicilian hospitality, including delicious foods, festivals, and quality family time. I loved every single minute meeting more family and getting to know my cousins better –only 7 months before we were strangers, now their hearts were knit deeply into my heart forever.

This summer I’m blessed to be returning a 3rd time to Sicily – I discovered affordable flights through Windsor, Canada rather than flying from the US, go figure. This time I hope to do a bit more sightseeing in Palermo, visit the eastern side of Sicily, and get in some relaxation at one of the beautiful sandy beaches. I will also enjoy Cappuccino and Espresso every day, and indulge in some unbelievably delicious gelato – more than once or twice.


Discovering Sicilian Family

In October 2014, I and seven cousins, their spouses and friends, took a trip of a lifetime to Rome and Sicily, in search of our roots in Partinico Sicily. For most of us, it was our first visit to Sicily, and what transpired was nothing short of miraculous.

Ten months prior, I discovered an ancestral tour guide through – the mother-load of all things Sicilian. Our guide, Rosy Bartolotta, specializes in uncovering family history around Sicily AND she’s originally from Michigan. I sent the particulars about our great grandparents, Angelo Comito and Antonina Barbiera of Partinico and explained they left Sicily for America in 1907 and we lost contact with the Partinico family in 1915, after Angelo died in a factory fire. Rosy set out researching the Comito family.

We stayed at the regal Excelsior Palace Hotel in Palermo, about 20 miles from Partinico. Rosy and her husband Michele met us in the morning with a van and off we went exploring. She immediately put my mind at ease; they were successful locating Comito family – descendants of our great grandfather Angelo’s twin brothers, Salvatore and Giuseppe.

We arrived at the Partinico city center, in front of the Chiesa Madre (Mother Church) and standing at the top of the church steps was our 2nd cousin, Leonarda and her husband Antonino. Her grandfather was our great grand uncle, Salvatore. One by one the American cousins climbed the steps to greet them, as we tried to hold back tears of joy. We also met our 2nd cousin, Francesca. After several minutes of hugs and attempts to communicate, Leonarda invited us back to her home to eat. With pleasure we said, yes!

First, we were invited to meet the Mayor of Partinico. Unfortunately, he was detained on business but we met his 2nd in command. He gave us a brief history of Partinico and offered us delicious Sicilian treats and Espresso, naturally!

Giornale Di Sicillia Sicily October 2014

Family from USA visit

Outside the Mayor’s office, a news reporter approached us about the purpose of our visit. Rosy gave them the scoop, and the following day our picture and story appeared in the Giornale Di Sicillia newspaper.

We headed to the Records Office to meet the Archivist. He helped us find several records including the marriage record of our great grandparents. I laid my hand on the very spot where our great grandparents signed their names in 1896. It was a very moving connection for me because I knew the page had been untouched in 118 years.

Outside the Records building a TV reporter with two cameramen asked if they could film our story. We were elated and agreed; the result was a moving representation of our longing to discover our Sicilian family. The video aired on TV that evening.

Finally, we headed to the home of Leonarda who had prepared an incredible meal for 15 people! Leonarda brought out her genealogical documents to show our family connection. More Sicilian cousins arrived and Antonino brought out champagne to toast this amazing 100 year family reunion.

If that was the end of my family reunion story it would be enough, but wait… there’s a bit more!

The descendants of our grandfather’s other brother, Giuseppe Comito saw our family story on TV and reached out to Rosy to meet with us. With such limited time we literally had to meet on the roadside. I’ll never forget meeting Nunzia, my 2nd cousin and granddaughter of Giuseppe, and her charismatic husband, Castrenze. I felt an instant link with them and all my Sicilian family; it was as if I was home. The next day, our last evening in Sicily, we enjoyed a delightful family get together at a local pizzeria.

The American and Sicilian cousins were finally reunited – our hearts were changed forever.

La Rocca Family

Guzzardo Family2

Family: Our link to the past and bridge to the future

I was very close to my paternal grandmother, Ann Comito Battiata. Her father died tragically in a fire on the job when she was only 7. For survival, she married at 15, became a mother at 16, and was a widow by 18. In her heyday she was a Flapper of the Roaring 20’s until she experienced a spiritual awakening in 1930. Her faith carried her through very difficult times, including the Great Depression, WWII, the deaths of her mother and husband, and right up until her own death in July 1977.

Etched in my mind are so many precious memories of her cooking, watching television game shows while knitting a mile a minute, shifting her 3-speed on the column Chevy with her right hand, while holding a cigarette in the left hand, studying the well-worn pages of her Bible, and telling me to ‘never forget your family.’ By profession she was a hair dresser, but also worked at Detroit Tiger Stadium. What a character – she was witty, patient, forgiving and kept secrets of her very arduous past.

After she died, I was heartbroken. I took comfort in researching her Sicilian family, which wasn’t easy in the early 80’s. There was no or Throughout the years, I’ve gathered remnants of her life, starting with her parents, Angelo Comito and Antonina Barbiera of Partinico. Partinico is an agricultural town about 20 miles southwest of Palermo. They immigrated to Coldwater Michigan in 1907 and my grandmother was born in 1908. After her father died in 1915 her mother took Annie and her little sister Jennie to Detroit, where they knew other families from Partinico. They lost all contact with the family back in Sicily.


By the 1990’s I had hit a roadblock in my Sicilian research and concluded the only way to learn more about our family was to go to Sicily. There was just one issue. No it wasn’t the Mafia, I was not afraid of them. I read a book describing where local bandits travel the highways in Sicily stealing from tourists. I pictured a scene from an old western movie, where outlaws swooped down on an unsuspecting stagecoach, forcing travelers to handover their valuables. As a single woman, this depiction made me apprehensive about traveling alone to Sicily. There was no one to go with me, so the trip idea was abandoned.


Fast forward to September 2013, the yearning to visit Sicily was pulling at me, like an ocean current. I looked into some tours, but I needed a custom tour, so I could spend time researching in Partinico and possibly uncover relatives. My father, now in his late 80’s, suggested I try to get a custom tour and see if any American cousins would go with me. I took his sage advice, (I normally do) and created an event on Facebook. I thought perhaps one or two cousins may be interested, but to my surprise, seven cousins along with their spouses and/or friends wanted to go. Suddenly I found myself the official travel coordinator of 15 going to Sicily in October 2014.

Check out my next post, where I’ll go into more detail about our amazing family trip to Sicily, and whether we were successful at reuniting family in Partinico.