Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Offal Truth of Palermo Tradition

Antica Focacceria San Francisco
Antica Focacceria San Francisco is the oldest restaurant in Palermo.  Formerly the chapel of the San Francisco Palace, it was gifted to the royal chef in 1834, which he turned into a restaurant.  Five generations later, it is still in the family.  The place is just about as famous as the traditional Offal food
U Pani ca Meusa - Spleen Sandwich
on its menu.  What is Offal?  It's only the entrails and organ matter of an animal.  All the throw-away stuff.  Believe it or not, offal has become a stylish cultural symbol of culinary tradition in Palermo.

So, when visiting the historic Focacceria, I had to go for the house specialty: U Pani ca Meusa - Spleen sandwich.  Yep.  It was pretty good - only the texture was slightly rubbery.  I heard someone call it a "spleeny panini."  Here's how it's made:  They take the spleen of a cow (and a little lung in most cases), boil whole, slice, cook a little more - this time in a round pot of lard.  Place a few slices in a fresh roll and top with Parmesan cheese.

Offal Beginnings
Offal history spans to the middle ages.  In the 5th century BC, a significant Jewish population came with the Greeks from Athens to Sicily.  By the middle ages, the Jews of Palermo were part of the wealthy elite, their community numbering to 5,000 at its peak.  Yet, there is hardly a trace of them today.  What does remain is Palermo's classic offal cuisine.

Offal Food:  It's a Tradition
Stigghiola - Small Intestine Kebabs
photo: siciliangodmother
When Jews slaughtered an animal for dinner, they would give the offal scraps to the community's poor.  Hats off to the Palermo underclass - they not only learned to survive on the "undesirables," but from it they used amazing ingenuity to create a palatable menu which they relish to this day.

Fast food in Palermo, which you buy on the street the way a New Yorker buys a hot dog, or a Californian orders from a chic Food Truck, is exclusively made of offal.  You can pick up a spleen sandwich, fried subcutaneous fat chunks on a bun (frittola), or small intestine kebabs (stigghiola).  Tongue and hoof salad can be found at the local supermarket.  Apparently, roadside offal chefs of Palermo are local celebrities, working their culinary wonders over open-air fryers and smoking grills.  So, at the heart of all Palermo Offal fast food is a legacy of a now-vanished Jewish community. (extra source: siciliangodmother).

Sicily's Odd Flag
What do Medusa, wheat stalks, and a trio of conjoined legs have in common? Why, Sicilian patriotism, of course. The Sicilian flag has got to be the oddest combination of symbols.  Odder still, is the fact that the strangest part of the flag (spiraling legs) is found on another national flag - that of the Isle of Man. To appreciate Sicily's Standard is to understand it's meaning, so let's take it piece-by-piece.

Red is the color of Palermo.  Yellow is Corleone.  Both cities were the first to form a successful revolt against French King Charles I back in 1282.  Three stalks of wheat honor Sicily's fertile land.

Three legs relate to ancient Greek history.  Spartans carved images of bent armored legs into their shields as a symbol of strength.  When seeing the shores of Sicily, the Greeks were reported to have been "taken by its beauty and likened its shores to the legs of a woman," and adopted the strength/womanly beauty image in triangular form for the island.  Romans call it the "Trinacria" (meaning, triangle), Greeks call it "Trinakrias," which was the ancient name for Sicily.

Now we get to the winged head of Medusa.  The story behind her image carries lengthy mythological roots surrounding the Gorgons, but I'll give you the short version.  Medusa's face implies protection from Athena, patron goddess of the isle. Medusa was the destructive aspect of Athena, who became a monster beheaded by the hero Perseus, whose said head then became embellished on Athena's shield.  Medusa's center position on the flag is somewhat of a threat and warning to all would-be invaders:  Don't mess with fertile, strong, beautiful Sicily! Capeesh?

When We're Helping We're Happy
Friday, we helped a woman in our ward who is actually American but living here in Palermo with her husband (an American chiropractor).  She recently moved, so we were helping clean out some finals things from the old house.  Then we headed to Palermo 2 area to sing at a baptismal service.

Saturday, we headed to Monreale for an evening at the Bishop's house - all the missionaries.  We got to know them pretty well.  Turns out the Bishop grew up in Springfield, Illinois, and he surprised us with his great English.  It's almost never that you run into an Italian who speaks with a perfect American accent (they either have an Italian or British accent).  The whole evening was super fun!

Chiesa del Gesu:  Church of Jesus
photo: travel.michelin.com
We ventured into the Chiesa del Gesu (pronounced Kee-essa del Jeh-zoo), also known as Casa Professa.  In 1549, Catholic Jesuits came to Palermo, settled their Order in Albergheria, the old stomping grounds of the Jews (who had been expelled in 1492), and began building a church.  A couple of additions and nearly a century later, it was eventually completed in 1636.  Then came World War II when bombs destroyed much of Palermo's historic buildings, including this church.  Rebuilding was slow, taking another half century, when finally they were able to re-open in 2009.  Some of the brightly colored paintings are noticeably 1970s era, but the restoration, as a whole, is quite fitting.  Baroque.

If it's Baroque, Baroque it Some More
The Church of the Gesu is the most ornate church in Palermo.  Marble carvings, exuberant patterns, layers of stucco reliefs, gilded embellishments, precious stones, colorful frescos, and hundreds - if not thousands (I'm not kidding) - of cherubs adorn every inch of the interior.  Nothing understated here.  This enormous 3-nave, 10-chapel church spares nothing in the way of outlandish opulence.  Take a look.
photo: passagetosicily.com
Gotta hand it to the Jesuit priests.  Instead of commissioning artists, they did a great deal of the craftsmanship themselves.  Thing is: they simply didn't know when to put on the creative brakes.

Honestly, it's difficult to appreciate artistry when it's stuffed, crammed, layered, and bedazzled.  If you can tunnel-vision your way through the church and isolate a sculpture here and a painting there, then it becomes a little more palatable.  Notice the beautiful cherubs on the right, for instance.

For fans of Baroque, this is Baroque on steroids. For me, it was a bit much.  Okay...a LOT much.

"I Love Challenges!"
Had several lessons this week.  Two of the four people taught have no interest.  Giuseppe's lesson was awesome.  He brought his brother, Toni, and we asked about their conversion stories (from Catholicism to Evangelism).  They shared some very cool experiences in which they strongly felt the Spirit when reading the Bible.  This was the perfect segue to the lesson we planned on The Book of Mormon, giving a scriptural "tour" using images at the beginning as an introduction.
     After explaining the book as being another Testament of Jesus Christ, and before we could share Moroni's promise, Giuseppe turned to Toni and said, "We might as well read it and see.  Then we can decide for ourselves."
     "That's exactly right," we said, and asked him to read Moroni 10:3-5.
     As soon as Giuseppe finished reading the promise, he said, "It's a challenge!  I love challenges."
     We bore testimony on the Book of Mormon and assured them that they would feel the Spirit as they read the book and prayed about it.  I have no doubt that Giuseppe will receive his answer since it's evident that he knows and recognizes the Spirit when he feels it.

"These Missionaries are Angels"
Our District has teamed up on helping each other's investigators, doing kind acts and nice deeds.  For instance, this week we got them each a little something and attached a note.  For Veronica (who really is only still an investigator because she is awaiting her mother's permission for baptism), we got her some chocolate.  Francesca (who has been struggling), we got her a flower.

Turns out, Francesca got our note and gift the very day she set a baptismal date with the Anziani, and our note made her teary-eyed.  She then started bearing testimony to another potential investigator standing nearby, telling her, "These missionaries are angels.  You have to meet with them.  They just bring the love of God with them."  It was very touching.
Temple Baptismal Font
photo: lds.org

"Will You be Baptized for Me?"
Alessio, the golden investigator, pulled the other sisters aside to mention a dream he had.  His friend had recently been in a terrible accident which left him in a coma.  The other night, Alessio had a dream in which this friend's spirit came to him and asked, "If I die, will you be baptized for me?"

When Alessio awoke, he started searching for baptisms for the dead on lds.org and found out that, indeed, we do them.  He asked the sisters if he was crazy, as he questioned more about the temple and saving ordinances for those who have gone before.  The Spirit was soooo strong as they talked and bore testimony on the blessings of the Temple.  He's amazing!

Bundled and Happy
I am having a blast here in Palermo!  Today is a rainy day.  In fact, I am wearing my coat for the first time.  Woohoo!  Later today for our P-Day activity, we plan on watching 17 Miracles as a District.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming up and I am sooo excited (of course, Thanksgiving is not a holiday here, but I can still celebrate).  I am happy to report that pumpkin has been found, which is ready to be made into pie once I find pie plates.  They are already setting up Christmas lights throughout the city (Italian lights are supposed to be Amazing), which makes me anxious for my Palermitano Christmas!

Offal Tradition and Our Heavenly Father's Plan
Palermo's Offal tradition shares something in common with our Heavenly Father's Plan.  No, really.  They both have a history of working with what's on the inside.  I'm not talking spleens and intestines.  I'm talking mind and heart.
The Lord seeth not as a man seeth;
for man looketh on the outward appearance,
but the Lord looketh on the heart.
1 Samuel 16:7
He looks on the heart because that's where real change begins.  You might altar things momentarily with programs and systems and finances, but deep lasting change - the kind that matters - is always a matter of the heart.   
Hearts are changed through faith on His name.
Mosiah 5:7
Here's the problem: we are separated from our Heavenly Father.  We are cut off from the Source of Love and Life.  A new purchase or policy or president won't fix that.  It can only be solved by God.  That's why scripture uses terms like softening of the heart, feelings to the mind and heart, conversion, repentance, and re-birth.  That's why He tells us to love Him with all of our heart, might, mind and strength.  Because, in His hands, only He can comfort and heal, expand and lift and renew.  The world may offer band aids, but only God and our Savior redeems, restores, and re-creates.
And they did declare unto the people the self-same thing-
that their hearts had been changed;
that they had no more desire to do evil.
Alma 19:33
Giuseppe and Alessio are beginning to see: Change is an inside job.  All we have to do is reach in and believe.

Dal Mio Cuore al Tuo (From my heart to yours),
Sorella Ashley Nef

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