On Trying Of Becoming A Sicilian Family Member By A German & Northern Irish Pale Face
Joe Gordon, better known as Sirr Henry Gordon, was - and probably still is - a legend in my hometown Munich. Back then, Sirr Henry opened up a little pop-up bar, down in a basement, in front of the opening doors and toilets of a real club. It literally was just a tiny shit hole, where only about 20 people could fit in properly, but always about 80 were trying to squeeze in. What started as a project for his uni or bachelor thesis - or for what the fuck ever - turned into the best and most loved bar in whole Munich - at least for all the cool kids, Al Bundys and geezers of our town.
Besides running the best pub in the world Joe never failed at living life to the fullest and always had a couple of, sometimes really fucked up and mostly very lovely, stories to tell. One time you saw him on a Friday behind the bar and met him the night after behind that very same bar, just with a little trip to Venice in between - for him and some other geezer that spontaneously decided to squeeze in a little trip to Italy after closing the pub doors.
For Biancissimo Joe will now take us on a longer ride about his love, that took him deep into Sicily, into one feast after another, into Italian family traditions, and his German & Northern Irish pale face in the middle of all that. I'm more than happy (again) to present you this character on Biancissimo adding his own story to the cake. Welcome Sirr Henry!
On Trying Of Becoming A Sicilian Family Member By A German & Northern Irish Pale Face
I have been at 3 weddings in my life. The first one took place in Germany, and I got superdrunk with a Russian and ended up in hospital, after falling from a chair and partially fracturing my nose. My second wedding was in Sicily and I had to puke between the first and the second dishes because there was an enormous buffet up beforehand and I was under huge pressure to prove my masculinity by finishing my plates, as my girlfriend’s grandpa was sitting next to me. Just recently I attended my third wedding, also in Sicily, and I managed to achieve the perfect balance of drinks and delicous food, and probably ending happier than the bride. I am pretty sure if I hadn’t been introduced to the dolce vita I would still be regularly staggering home after a long night at the pub, not really appreciating the value of food and amore.
When you take the ship from Sicily to the mainland of Italy on embarking there is a sign saying “Welcome to Italy“ I think it symbolizes quite well that Sicily is indeed different than the rest of Italy. I will try to explain why.
In 2015 my girlfriend took me to Sicily for the first time to celebrate easter with her family in a little village. As Italians are known for being religious, well I could experience the importance of god on my own soul & body now. We went to a little village called Burgio which is in the midlands, surrounded by beautiful mountains. (Siciliy consists of 80% of mountainous terrain) I think they had never seen anyone from the north before, at least never one that was chilling in their village.
Therefore they wanted to present their hood from the best side and shortly after the celebrations started they put a cigar in my mouth, a Martini bottle in my right hand and taught me how to position my left hand in my pockets in order to pose like a real gigolo. Over the course of the day theywere continually carrying an immense statue with some sort of saint and firing rockets etc. at people from the same village who support a different saint. They insisted that I carry this statue which was fucking heavy, and the next day my whole shoulder was black & blue. But it was worth it.
Now 2 1/2 years later many things still appear new to me, but my love for these people remains undaunted. Especially after having lived in Milan for almost a year now, I am able to determine the difference between Northern and Southern Italians.
Most people associate Sicily with the Mafia but also when you drive on the highway into Palermo you are welcomed by a large sign written on a house wall which says: “NO MAFIA“. Actually it is a memorial to Falcone, a famous judge who fought against the mafia and whose killers detonated the bomb from that very house. Looking at these words while driving on the highway, there is a good chance that you will feel sick. But this is not only because the Sicilians are crazy drivers. Its more because the highway is rather curvy. Curvy because when the highway was built the mafiosi didn’t want to leave their houses and consequently the highway had to be built AROUND their houses. Well, I learnt pretty quickly that the Sicilians are not proud that people associate their island with the mafia & even feel insulted thereby. The mafia is definitely still present in Sicily now wearing ties and being involved in politics.
When 5 uncles of my girlfriend came over for the Oktoberfest in Munich, my mother asked one of them about the scare on his arm. The only words he said were “Molotov Cocktail“. Apparently he didn’t pay the pizzo (protection money) and therefore his restaurant was burnt to the ground, with him inside. We never spoke about it again.
Anyway, there are so many positive things to say about this island in the South.
For example, the importance of the family. Everytime I go to Sicily I am being introduced to new family members. I haven’t counted the number of zios (uncles) I have already met, but I am not exaggerating if I say 20-30. Everyone wants you to come to visit them at their home and most of the time I come to Sicily I feel like I am on cocaine because of the amount of coffee we consume while visiting everyone.
The first time my girlfriend’s father took us to the countryside to ride to the mountains on his horses, various nonnas, nonnos, zios, cuginos joined us on the 2-3 hours ride from Palermo though only 5 of us actually went on the horses. As I didn’t know that the whole family was coming, I asked him if they came because of me. He simply replied: “Si, of course we are happy that you are here.“
At first I felt a bit embarrassed also because my girlfriends grandfather suffers from Alzheimer. Nevertheless he joined the trip contually singing along his songs. The way he was integrated into everything still astonishes me. One zio also suffers from a sickness and cannot walk and talk properly. Yet he always joins us for the horse ride and his sickness wasn’t taken into account at any point. Therefore I still don’t know what he actually has, as it has never been a topic of conversation. My initial embarrassment quickly turned into pure happiness.
I am forbidden to pay for anything when I stay there. Especially my girlfriend’s father, who is a professional Taekwando teacher and has his own gym, frightens me to death just with his eyes when I tell him that I want to pay for something. Her father is one of the most energetic guys I have ever seen. He gets up at 5:30 goes jogging or biking for 12km, and after that has his training sessions at the gym, and that at the age of 58. At least now I know where my girlfriend has her discipline from. When we chill in the garden and hear him coming on his motorbike, wearing a classy polo shirt and Rayban glasses, the first thing I do is run up to the room in order to put my shirt on. It’s an automatic reflex, because I know that after a lot of kissing and hugging he will grab my body breast and check my muscles. With my shirt on I feel more comfortable because then he can only feel, and not see, that I don’t have any muscles.
I have also never experienced anyone eating a large plate of pasta as quickly as he does. Well I have decided to introduce a Rossario Di Leo (his name) month to my life, meaning that I will try to live once a year, for a month, as he does. Haven’t managed to do so to date, though.
Especially as there is so much good food in Sicily. Once I spent 1 1/2 months there and gained 8kg, but never regretted one kilo. Everyone who knows me is aware that I am a fast food addict and that Subway deserves a Michelin star in my opinion. There I was taught different. At first I was happy when my girlfriend told me that there is a lot of street food around Palermo. Back then I didn’t know that street food includes them spitting in the pan in order to check if the oil is ready yet. Well, once I tried it, I knew that a combination of spit, milza (chopped veal's lung and spleen), dirty pans, dirty hands can easily beat a sub with Honey Mustard, Sweet Onion & Southwest sauce. Eating properly is one of the most important things in Sicily and when my girlfriends tells her family that we are coming to Sicily, they don’t ask about the arrival time but simply what we want to eat during our stay.
It is normal that when you meet up with friends or family members that the first 10-15 minutes you speak about your lunch or dinner and thereby really go into details. Especially as a tourist you will be asked about every single dish you have eaten so far. Furthermore you will discuss what you are going to have for lunch while having breakfast, and when having lunch you will speak about what your going to have for dinner. Once we went out for dinner with some friends and in my opinion it was now the right time to start drinking. Well instead we drove 40 minutes through the whole city to eat pastries at 1 o’clock in the evening. It was worth it though. What is noticed is that when I meet up with friends in Germany for “one” drink, it never stays with one drink. When you go out for drinks in Italy in the early evening you go for an aperitivo. It means that you go to a bar where there is a buffet and the price for the food is included in the price for the drink. Somehow we ended up never having more than one or two drinks but always with a full belly.
When discussing the best restaurants or bakeries there is a good chance that a fight will break out, as Sicilians are fucking stubborn. Everyone’s opinion is the right one. It doesn’t matter if the other person has no clue about the topic concerned: he/she is right. Therefore it is never quiet and dinners, especially with the family, can be exhausting. Here I can profit from being a stranger and try to keep myself out of the discussions as they are inevitably also very confusing. But this stubbornness can also be seen in the traffic situation. It doesn’t matter if the person just crossed the red light, he/she is right. Thus it’s not uncommon for 4 cars to be suddenly driving next to one another, though only 2 are officially allowed. That’s why it will also be difficult for you to find a car in Sicily, especially in Palermo, that has no scratches or dents. It is well known that Italians are fond of using the car horn, well the Sicilians don’t only just like it, they love it.
To every German speaker I recommend this article as it sums up the traffic situation pretty well.
What many people are not aware of is the Arabic influence on the city of Palermo. Many street signs in the center are still written in Arabic and also the language, food and architecture have an Arabic background. (eg. Couscous) Even many of the girls look very Arabic. The difference between Northern and Southern Italians is huge. The warmness of the Sicilians is incredible & a kiss for saying hello involves 30 kisses, not one. Watching these kissing scenes makes me warmly happy, again and again. Therefore you should plan some time when saying goodbye. It still amazes me how a human being is able to give so many kisses in so few seconds.
The importance of the sea is undoubtedly high and therefore a common expression before going out is “Buon mare“, which means as much as have a good day at the sea, with nice water & a good view. So it’s not surprising that every 10 year old Sicilian girl can swim better than me. During the summer we suggested a Sicilian friend to go to the beautiful Lake Como close to Milan. She immediately refused with the simple comment “Lakes are for ducks!” Due to the strong connection to the seaside anchors as a tattoo never appeared more authentic to me than on the hairy arm of a Sicilian, wearing round earrings striped T-shirt, having a full beard sitting on his vespa. Maybe they are still hipsters and not real fishermen, but at least it suits them.
Unfortunately many of the young people (90%) leave the island for studying or job reasons. The consequence is that a lot of potential is leaving as well. Growing up in Germany I am not used to the fact that people have to leave their hometown for a job. When you go out for a beer during the summer months 70-80 % of the young people you talk to live somewhere else. On the one hand, this is a very sad thing; on the other, it can be something very positive when these guys decide to come back to Palermo and profit from their international experience & enlarged worldview.
One of these guys is the very talented photographer Andrea Musico. After 5 years in Rome he decided to move back to Palermo, as he not only missed the seaside, but also sees the potential the city has and wants to build on it. Every time we meet him he arrives on his white vespa, with the camera around his neck with a big smile on his face, and always full of ideas for new projects. For me he symbolizes all the positive things about Sicily and hence I am very happy that he provided some pictures from his archive for this article. Check his website.
Pizzerias can be found all around the globe, even in the smallest villages, & many of the original owners come from Sicily. What many people forget is that these guys left a lot behind in order to do so. Even today many of the young Sicilians become “pizzaioli” (trained pizza maker) and then go abroad.
Sometime the Sicilians remind me of the Irish, just tanned and more focused on eating than on drinking.
My girlfriend and I have started putting money on the side in order to be able to one day buy a little fishing boat. I cannot wait to be at the sea, admiring the mountains and having a good life.
I can recommend anyone to visit this beautiful island and your trip will start with applause for the pilot just after landing in Palermo. Just make sure to remember the three words: “Sono pieno, grazie”, meaning “I am full thank you” and may help you not to be fed to death.
Grazie amore per tutto! xxx