Saturday, August 29, 1998

The Madonna of Tears

Modern miracles and ancient myths in Siracusa, Sicily

This is the story of the Madonna della Lacrime, the Madonna of Tears. A Siracusan family buys a little factory-made plaster plaque-relief of the Madonna back in 1953. They hang it on the wall.

The next morning the husband goes off to work, after which the gypsum Madonna image starts crying, at 8:30 a.m. on Aug 29, 1953. Wife calls husband. He comes home. They marvel at the thing, a bit scared, and try to figure out what to do.

Relatives they call start coming over to see it and confer.

Then neighbors start arriving to see the miraculous Madonna (that'll teach them to reveal secrets to nosy Sicilian relatives).

Then strangers start showing up at the door.

You can see where this is heading.

Wednesday, August 5, 1998

Sweet, Sweet Heaven

Lecce is one of the loveliest, liveliest towns in Southern Italy, but some of its best secrets hide in the unlikeliest of places

I was walking up the street in Lecce near Santa Croce church when someone across at the edge of my peripheral vision started calling out to me in English "Hey! Hello! Excuse me, hello!"

As usual — as with the hotel touts at train stations, the man at the postcard stand today, and the guy playing his guitar (badly) yesterday in a doorway — when strangers on the street in Italy start talking to me in "American," I ignore them completely. Not to be rude, but because 9.99 times out of ten they want to sell me something I don't want or need, and they're out to fleece me to boot.

So I kept walking ahead. Then the voice said "Eh, uhm... Frommer's! Frommer's, hello!"

Wait a minute. This guy knows who I am.

Saturday, August 1, 1998

Brindisi, Waiting Room of the Aegean

I spend a day scaring up the best there is to see in the Apulian port city of Brindisi

Brindisi is, and always has been, a ferry port. From the days when the Romans extended the Via Appia here from Rome through medieval knights leaving for the Crusades to modern sun-seekers on their way to the Greek Isles, Brindisi has been where you step off the end of the road and onto the high seas.

Brindisi is the only Italian town where more road signs point to "Greece" than to anywhere in Italy. The passeggiata here is less an evening stroll than a backpacker parade of ferry-bound tourists killing time until their 10pm departure by restlessly marching up and down the main drag, their eyes sparkling with visions of Greek islands, their faces grimacing as they bite into what very well may be the worst pizza-by-the-slice this side of Naples.

There is little to see in Brindisi, but I was determined to find something to put in the guidebook I was writing at the time, anything to amuse the legions of folks who are stuck here daily, waiting to board the slow boat to Greece.