by Eric Lucas
“So, how does it feel to be in your homeland?”
My wife, Leslie, looks at me inquisitively.
We’re visiting Tindari, Sicily, where the Black Madonna of Tindari hangs in a cool-stone basilica on an olive-scrub headland overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. Beside the Madonna is an equally ebony Christ hanging on a crucifix. Up the road is a theater used by Greeks and Romans; stone seats persist on a rocky hillside, 2,000 years after they were first set down.
“She is known as the ‘Black Madonna of the Orient’,” our Sicilian guide, Lita, explains about the sepia-hued sculpture in the basilica’s huge bronze altar. “That means ‘from the east.’ In this case, Byzantium. So many, many people have come through Sicily over the centuries.”
And many have left.
“I’m Sicilian,” I tell Lita. She raises her eyebrows, looks me up and down. I hope I pass inspection: oxhide skin; walnut eyes; bones like the old olive trees nearby. She nods.
“One quarter Sicilian,” I clarify. “My great-grandparents came from a village above Palermo.