Casa Nostra: A Home in Sicily
Caroline Seller Manzo
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In this enchanting memoir about food, family, culture, and culture shock, an Englishwoman shares the unpredictable adventures of her Sicilian family and the renovation of their villa
At a mid-seventies Halloween party in London, Caroline Seller stumbled across a man in a lion mask. Although she spoke little Italian and he practically no English, both were undeniably smitten. After only a few more meetings, Caroline was invited to stay with Marcello's family in Mazara del Vallo, Sicily, where she was introduced to the eccentric Manzo clan—including Marcello's larger-than-life mother Maria—who lived in a magnificent but crumbling villa, Santa Maria.
Soon afterward Caroline and Marcello married, set out on an expatriate life together around the world, and started their own family, but Santa Maria was never far from their thoughts. After much debate over the fate of the deteriorating villa, Marcello and his brothers united to save it. Determined in their mission—but not entirely prepared for what they were getting into!—Marcello and Caroline embarked on a restoration process full of disconcerting setbacks, demoralizing mishaps, and ultimately breathtaking results.
Through amusing anecdotes, stunning photography, and inspired observations of Sicilian culture, Casa Nostra shows not only the renovation of the villa, but also the unique beauty and history of western Sicily and its people, as seen through the eyes of Caroline Seller Manzo—an outsider who is often surprised, and always delighted, by her family and adopted hometown.
untouched by worry.The warm home atmosphere, the ever-present brood of cousins, the freedom from the discipline of school, and the proximity of the sea all contributed to a happy childhood, and in spite of the shadow of the Maﬁa, a deep sense of security. Across the road from the house was one of the RELICKS AND RUBBISH 49 cinemas Maria owned.The young Marcello was obsessed with the big screen, just like the little boy in Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso. Whereas most ﬁlms about the
other.The same thing goes on in the United States, in Canada, and even in Britain, he claims.You have to be brave to take on Pilli in an argument, for he has what is known in the family as “the Manzo Temper,” which means that a mere difference of opinion can result in a volcanic eruption of wrath.Yet in the safety of my study in Milan, well away from the shouting and table thumping of my brother-in-law, I can have my say. Surely Pilli is wrong and the Sicilian Maﬁa is different. It is the
ephemeral identiﬁcation with an unknown corpse was enough to calm him.“While there’s death there’s hope,” he thought. ALL SAINTS AND ALL SOULS 141 While most of us are perfectly happy to watch variations on the theme of death played out on the screen, but loath to have any ﬁrsthand contact, in Sicily the medieval familiarity persists. Plague, famine, and war were scourges common to most of Italy and much of Europe in the Middle Ages, but Sicily got all of these in greater doses, not to
would be at my side for the whole of my stay. He had taken time off from his job at the comune to be my escort. And he had treats in store—Greek temples, baroque churches, Norman ruins, and an Easter picnic.Various friends had been lined up to what? I tried to concentrate but managed to understand less than 50 percent of what he was saying. I had already been twenty-four hours without sleep, and the car was certainly making a lot of noise. I could catch a few key words, but I couldn’t actually
unkempt maybe, but a gorgeous feast for the eye. We head left for the pineta, the cool shady garden of pines beyond the parco. Jack trots along happily ahead of me, stopping only to snap at a butterﬂy or investigate the rustle of a lizard in the bushes. As we trample the dry pine needles underfoot, he collects various nasty prickles and burrs in his coat and paws. I feel I should kneel down, like Saint Jerome with the lion, and patiently extract them, but my recent hip surgery makes kneeling