A light drizzle fell on the windows of the car. Suddenly the flash of lightning and the rumble of thunder startled me.
The rain was turning into a storm and I thought it prudent to spend the night in one of the villages in the valley. I don’t know why I chose Villafranca Sicula.
I entered the village and immediately had a positive feeling. I parked the car near a bar, got out and went inside. The place was semi-empty and I asked if they could show me a small hotel, a B&B, where to spend the night.
The young woman at the counter smiled at me and told me that there were no hotels, but I could spend the night with Aunt Giuseppina, as she has a very large house that she had turned into a boarding house.
I thanked the girl with long black hair and a magnetic gaze, ordered a chinotto and asked for the address of Aunt Giuseppina.
Despite the drizzle, I went for a walk around the town. I had travelled a few tens of metres when I found myself in front of a church and entered it without delay.
The sixteenth-century structure had three naves with the shape of a basilica. The silence and the gloom of the place took me to a mystical dimension that I had not felt for some time. I reached the main altar, looked up and saw a picture with the face of Mary intent on watching over her baby boy.
I sat down on a bench, narrowed my eyes and instinctively said a prayer. A few minutes later I reopened them and to my surprise a child of about ten was sitting next to me.
– Who are you?
– John. I am the nephew of the parish priest. Who are you?
– I’m a reporter, the rain brought me.
– How long will you stay?
– I’m leaving tomorrow.
Giovanni raised his hand towards the picture:
– Do you know the story of this Madonna? Everyone knows the Madonna del Mirto.
– But I’m not from here.
With a serious expression he began to tell me that this Madonna is in this church because she wanted it. She had fallen from the hands of a monk who was returning to Burgio to his convent, and she came to rest on a hedge of murtidda (myrtle ).
The monk had returned to fetch her, and brought her back to the convent, but she went back to the myrtle hedge.
Men had come from Burgio and Lucca with a cart of oxen to take her back, but not even the oxen were able to move her. The Madonnina wanted to stay in Villafranca, so after many quarrels and much chatter between the residents the painting remained in the Mother Church.
Every year, in early August, Burgitani, Lucchisi and Villafranchisi are reconciled and celebrate Maria del Mirto).
– Thanks Giovanni, what a beautiful story.
– If you want I’ll tell you a little about my town
– Sure with pleasure.
We left the church, the air was fresh and it no longer rained. Giovanni began to tell about his town.
– Villafranca was built by the Alliata princes in the sixteenth century and then benefited from the baron Musso in the nineteenth century. We are in the main street with the Chiesa Matrice, the Palazzo degli Alliata and a tower with a pendulum clock and three bronze bells minted in Burgio.
We also have the churches of San Giovanni, San Giuseppe and del Carmine. The town hall is located in the old Franciscan convent.
– Bravo Giovanni. Tell me about the territory.
– Do you want to know how we live? Once in the village there were the coopers, blacksmiths, the saddlers and basket weavers.
The women embroidered their dresses and those of the rich young ladies of the city, embellishing them with crochet, pillow and tatting lace. Men cultivated the land with wheat and citrus groves, peach groves, vineyards, olive groves and almond groves.
Tomorrow morning I will give you to eat some of my mother’s cunsato bread (fresh simple Sicilian sandwich), mixed with the flour of our wheat and with the oil of our biancolilla olive trees.
– Faced with this invitation, you can be sure that I will not leave till after eating your mother’s cunsato bread.
As we talked, the clock struck eight pm.
– It’s late, I have to go to dinner. Tonight cabbage soup, roasted sausage and finally cubbaita prepared by my mother with our almonds.
– Cubbaita? Even in my family this dessert was prepared with our almonds.
– How nice, we have one thing in common, the cubbaita. I’ll let you eat that too tomorrow. Goodbye.
I watched that slip of a man walk away and couldn’t help but appreciate his resourcefulness. I will never forget his proud gaze as he told, in his own way, the history of his town and its inhabitants.
Villafranca the town of old trades, citrus fruits, good oil, ancient grains, good fruit and almonds, yes, the almonds of the cubbaita.
Villafranca with many flavours and many aromas to be experienced with the simplicity of little Giovanni.